DHS future form up in air after state question approved
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Thursday, November 08, 2012
11/08/12 at 7:46 AM
Oklahoma's vote Tuesday to put governance of the Department of Human Services in the hands of the Governor's Office and to replace the agency's oversight commission with advisory panels opened the door to further changes down the road.
Those changes could include splitting the organization into smaller, specialized pieces, legislative leaders said.
State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said the referendum's outcome allows the Legislature to go in that direction, but it would take several years and legislative sessions to work out the logistics.
"I think people talking about splitting it up is basically kind of a desperate attempt to try to correct the situation and what's going on," Nelson said.
"Last year we started looking at a lot of details, including whether it made sense to split it up, and it became pretty clear that if you split it up, you may just be dividing the problems rather than addressing them."
Nelson was the chairman of the House workgroup charged with developing the state question.
He said the state question was not intended to split the agency, but it is something that the question allows for and could happen years from now.
In the short term, the vote abolished the DHS oversight commission, which is set to be replaced with four advisory panels - although the panels will have no direct power to govern DHS.
The panels would help craft policy for the agency in the areas of developmental disability, child welfare, aging issues and DHS administration.
Nelson said he would like the advisory panels to be in place by the start of the legislative session in February, but it may take more time for the Senate to confirm Gov. Mary Fallin's appointments.
DHS Commissioner Anita Wilkinson, whose status as commissioner will dissolve once Tuesday's vote is confirmed, said the Legislature intended all along to leave the state question open-ended so that DHS could eventually split into smaller agencies.
"This has opened up a whole can of worms," she said. "I was struck dumbfounded (Tuesday night). I think that is what has been the intention all along."
Wilkinson said the advisory panels and any intention to possibly split DHS jeopardizes its Pinnacle Plan, a $153 million blueprint for overhauling the foster-care system during the next five years.
The panels lose all decision-making authority that was given to the commission and would not be held to Open Meeting Act requirements, Wilkinson said.
"They can meet anywhere at any time," she said. "We've been working so long to add transparency, and this just takes it all away."
Nelson said the point of the state question was to address the overburdened Human Services Commission.
"The one thing that everybody agreed on is that there is no way the commission can ever know all the details that you would hope they would know in order to exercise the authority the constitution gives them," he said.
Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, said the four advisory panels will have a better understanding of what can be done within their focus, avoiding any need to split DHS.
Crain is chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services committee.
"We are achieving some benefit of specialization just by having those advisory councils," he said. "When you've split an agency, you're doubling the bureaucracy that is part of it. What are the benefits of the breakup?"
Original Print Headline: Vote puts DHS future up in air
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367
Rep. Jason Nelson: "If you split it up, you may just be dividing the problems rather than addressing them."