It happens every time a new governor is elected: 17 of the top jobs in state government come open, and a freshly minted administration comes face to face with the responsibility of continuing services for 4 million state residents.
Gov.-elect Nikki Haley will today provide details about her transition team, whose job will be to identify who will oversee vital functions such as maintaining roads; running state prisons and delivery of Medicare and Medicaid; and finding new jobs for the state.
And the men and women Haley taps for service will have to do it with fewer employees and severely smaller budgets.
Haley and her brain trust will decide over the next few months who stays and who goes.
"When I took this job, I said you have a governor that controls less than 10 percent of government, and the next governor ought to have every opportunity to appoint the people they want," said Jon Ozmint, Department of Corrections director.
Like other agency heads, Ozmint, appointed by Gov. Mark Sanford in 2003, faces an uncertain future with a change in power.
Ozmint and other agency heads have had to do significantly more with fewer resources.
Since he took over, Ozmint said, he's seen the number of employees at Corrections drop by 1,400, and the number of inmates rise by 4,000.
At the same time, Ozmint said, he and his remaining staffers have been able to keep South Carolina's burgeoning 25,000-inmate population in the bottom 3 percent of costs-per-inmate in the country, his proudest achievement, he said.
When Sanford named Ozmint director, the Corrections department was under SLED scrutiny and juggling a stream of indictments, he said, and the agency had gone through three directors in four years.
Ozmint seems to have brought some stability to the agency.
"I love this agency and think the world of the (employees) in it, in what I believe is the most difficult job in state government," Ozmint said.
"I don't know what my future holds, but I knew that coming in."
At the Commerce Department, Sanford appointee Joe Taylor said he has seen a 68 percent budget cut during his tenure. Taylor said he is ready to return to the private sector.
"I've been fairly clear for the last six months," Taylor said, readying for a return to the business world.
Since the recession began in 2007, the state's unemployment rate has risen to more than 11 percent now, from roughly 5 percent.
But the state also has been recognized for a string of national awards tied to a pro-business environment and economic development, Taylor said.
With a $3.9 million budget this year, and 75 employees, Commerce has seen 80,669 jobs recruited to the state since Taylor was appointed six years ago, he said, and the state has seen $16.6 billion in capital investments.
So Taylor said the state is well positioned going forward.
"The chief challenge is getting people in the state to believe in us as much as others outside the state," Taylor said. "We've had a really good run."
Haley has been pretty clear, too, that Commerce is one of the areas in state government where she would like to make a change.
"As she announced this week, Governor-elect Haley has already begun the process of finding the most energetic, creative and qualified people possible to fill her cabinet," said Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey.
Godfrey gave no hint whether Haley wants to start her administration with a clean slate or would more value continuity in certain agency appointments.
"She's excited about the team she will put in place, and can't wait to get to work for the people of South Carolina."
Another agency that is expected to be heavily under the political and budgetary gun over the next few years is the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers Medicare and Medicaid in the state.
The growth in Medicaid enrollment in South Carolina has been substantial, said Emma Forkner, whom Sanford appointed three years ago to run DHHS.
"That's the story of the recession," she said.
Starting in December 2007, when the recession started, as parents lost their jobs, many put their offspring on Medicaid, as they drew unemployment benefits.
Once those unemployment benefits ran out, the parents then became eligible, and sought services, Forkner said.
Health and Human Services has added 2,500 to 5,000 new Medicaid members to the benefit rolls in South Carolina every month since December 2007, Forkner said, totaling more than 100,000 new enrollees.
At the same time, the agency has had to make transfers of reserve funds to help other struggling state agencies, Forkner said, while also enduring budget reductions.
Stimulus dollars helped stabilize the system stresses last year, as federal law forbids enrollment reduction tactics against those who are eligible for Medicaid services.
Rising enrollment, because of a bad economy, will push Medicaid enrollment in South Carolina to 865,000 people by the end of the fiscal year, Forkner said, and the implementation of the health care overhaul will push that number to 1.2 million, 28 percent to 30 percent of the state's population.
Forkner said she respects the decision-making process Haley will have to go through.
"Just as it states when I got confirmed by the Senate, I serve at the pleasure of the governor, and when he exits, I exit," Forkner said, "so January 14 would be my last day."
Forkner said she was attempting to retire when she answered Sanford's call.
"I might go back to retiring," she said lightly. "I never got there."
While Forkner didn't rule out entertaining an offer, she stressed that the decision lies with Haley's administration.
Forkner has grandchildren in the area, a husband who is retired and a son who lives in the Netherlands, whom she would like to visit.
"Those are smart people that she's got running her campaign, but, clearly, I know they will put forward the best decision-making that they can, to find leaders that will work with them in carrying out their policies," Forkner said.
"Meanwhile, my plate is full at Medicaid for the days that are left in my tenure. I'm pretty focused on that right this moment."