Friday, February 10, 2017

Fitzwalkerstan trend continues - consolidation and corruption of Guv's power

One of the methods that the Walker Administration gets even bigger and cotninues its steamroller is by removing independence and oversight in state government. And much of this has been done slowly but surely over the last 6 years by moving various state functions out of various agencies, and putting them under the Department of Administration (DOA or “Department of All”, as many state workers call it). The most recent and notable example of this is an “efficiency” plan in the state budget which is intended to save money while putting new functions under the purview of DOA.
The Governor recommends creating a human resources shared services program within the Division of Personnel Management at the department to consolidate human resources, payroll and benefits functions of most executive branch agencies. Agency staff related to these functions will become department employees beginning on July 1, 2018. However, vacant positions will be reallocated from three agencies in FY18 to begin the transition toward a shared services model….

The Governor recommends transferring vacant information technology positions from several agencies, to strengthen information technology and services procurement and purchasing. Additional staffing will ensure that individual agency information technology purchases are made in a way that considers technologies and products already in use across the enterprise and maximizes single, integrated solutions whenever possible…

The Governor recommends transferring information technology positions to the department from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance in order to provide more efficient and effective information technology support….

The Governor recommends requiring the department to study the potential consolidation of state facilities staffing in a shared services model and include a request relating to that study in its 2019-21 biennial budget request.
And sure, maybe there will be savings to the putting these services under one roof at DOA, but it also decreases the independence of hiring and operating in ways that might make an agency more responsive to the specific needs of their program and facilities. This is especially true if the DOA is filled with political operatives who might not know (or care) the first thing about an organization’s mission and history of why things are done in a certain way. And we know that in today’s GOP, it’s party and donor loyalty that gets you promoted over actual knowledge and competence.


Who needs the People's House when you got this?

Another benefit to the Walker Administration to this consolidation of power? It becomes much easier to put together pay-to-play scams! Lee Berquist of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel pointed out on Friday how GOP insider connections led to Governor Walker’s call for a pro-polluter change in “enforcement.”
Lobbyists for a farm group met with Gov. Scott Walker's staff and talked about moving more authority over large farms from the Department of Natural Resources to the agriculture department several months before Walker directed the move be studied in his budget.

John Holevoet, director of government relations for Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, said that he and contract lobbyist Bill McCoshen met with a Walker staff member last fall to discuss agricultural issues, including the merits of a larger role for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in regulating the state's largest farms.

On Wednesday, Walker's 2017-'19 budget included a directive that the two agencies evaluate moving regulation of large farms out of the DNR.

Environmental groups are wary of such a shift and noted that a state audit last year found numerous shortcomings in the state's wastewater program, which includes CAFOs.
Speaking of pay-to-play possibilities, that seems to be behind another way this administration likes to grab power for itself- by eliminating independent boards that handle specific issues. One such example was described in Thursday’s Capital Times where the Walker Admin wants to oversee private schools themselves, after the current board reported on and oversaw a horrible recent track record for these types of schools.
The state Educational Approval Board is scheduling an emergency meeting next week to discuss Gov. Scott Walker’s intention to eliminate the agency, which oversees for-profit postsecondary schools.

EAB members as a body have not yet decided if they support, oppose or are neutral on a proposal in Walker’s 2017-2019 executive budget to eliminate the 6.5-employee agency that authorizes private trade, correspondence, business and technical schools and provides consumer protection services to their students, said EAB executive secretary David Dies.

Those functions would be transferred to the Department of Safety and Professional Services under Walker’s proposal….

…among 66,819 students enrolled from 2012-2014 in 263 schools, colleges and universities approved by EAB, only 30 percent had completed their studies by April 2016, according to an EAB Student Outcomes Report. In comparison, 41 percent of students had dropped out and 29 percent were continuing in school.

“In an economy that places a premium on education, students who accumulate large amounts of loan debt, but fail to earn a credential, (are) a major concern,” the outcomes report states.

In its consumer protection role, the agency provides guidance to students lodging complaints about schools where they have enrolled. EAB has counseled students who had been enrolled at Globe University and ITT Technical Institute — for-profit college chains that closed last year after federal education authorities withheld student aid — about ways to complete their education or get federal student loans discharged.
And look who was just hired as the DSPS Secretary to oversee these private and for-profit schools - the head of a major Milwaukee voucher school. Think a few DeVos-style campaign donations might make the DSPS look the other way on shaky businesses practices, bad curricula and student exploitation at these schools? If not, you should.

There are similar plans in the budget to put hearings on worker’s compensation under the DOA (and therefore directly under the Walker Administration, and the governor also wants to end the state’s Labor and Industry Review Commission and instead would “[add] a secondary review process for administrative law judge decisions in order to streamline appellate functions and decrease the time to decision for unemployment insurance, equal rights and worker's compensation cases." So apparently stacking these boards with GOP hacks isn’t enough, Walker now wants the entire thing under DOA control, where they can be even more tightly controlled and allowed to carry out arbitrary "interpretations" of law.

But this is par for the course in 2010s GOP land, where they have no tolerance for checks and balances in our democracy if it keeps them from doing what they want to do ("SEE YOU IN COURT!"). We need to be emphasizing how these outlaw administrations in both DC and in Madison want to do their business out of sight of the taxpayers that pay their salaries, and to rule by fiat, instead of lead with the consent of the governed. This budget document in Wisconsin continues that troubling trend.

7 comments:

  1. Why did you photoshop out the Eye of Sauron from that photo of 101 East Wilson?

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    1. No idea it was. Just grabbed a stock photo. I'll look for others later on

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    2. And....I just got the joke. Well played

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  2. IT consolidation is a huge reeking cesspool. I worked IT in an agency which was more or less forced into the consolidated operation at DOA some years back. From my point of view, it looked like they took three positions' worth of resources and about 0.25 position worth of actual work while increasing the costs by a factor of at least 5 and, in my opinion, reducing the service level to the agency's working personnel.

    But there is some sense to consolidating purchasing now that they've created the structure. Fewer vendors reduces complexity and support costs. It also reduces the value of operational site knowledge making it easier to work with less experienced personnel.

    I can understand consolidating top-end services for HR, payroll and benefits, but I can't tell you how frustrating it was to lose people within the agency who really knew the system.

    The consolidation of power and control you rightly point out has been ongoing for a long time, and to some extent, I see an argument in favor of it. If I'm the Gov and my ass is out on the political line for the actions of the DNR, I should right and properly have some say in how it gets run. Accountability and independence is a delicate balance. You want highly skilled and educated people to have enough independence to act according to the data, realities and science in their area of specialization, but you don't want them to become an unaccountable bureaucratic fiefdom-based shadow government to which there is no recourse.

    Ach - too deep for Saturday morning. Time to go make ham and eggs.

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    1. Good analysis, Jeff. I agree that there is validity behind consolidating back-office items if they're on the same system (the STAR project is the same concept). But often this is more trouble than it's worth both financially and in work product.

      Interestingly, there are a few measures to turn contractors into full-on state employees, likely due to the fact that it's cheaper and you get better workers in this time of dwindling availability of workers, especially in a booming town like Madison with 2.7% unemployment.

      The problem I have here is that much of this consolidation isn't for added accountability by the Gov, it's to make for the "unaccountable bureaucratic fiefdom" that you describe, where there is no voice for independence and honest analysis that can do better in solving problems.

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  3. Hasn't the HR consolidation been ongoing for a few years? They built/are building a new computer system for it and, when I was last working at a state agency 1.5 years ago, the HR staff were going to become DOA employees.

    I just don't see how making OCI staff DOA employees will make anything better. Won't they just be IPA'd (or whatever that process is called when DOA employees work are contracted to work at another agency) back to OCI?

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    1. They've been doing it step-by-step, but this puts almost all hiring and some other duties entirely under the DOA. Seems to be quite a bit different than the "closer, more localized" government talking points that Walker likes to give, isn't it?

      As mentioned above, some of the budget measures actually reduce the number of contractors and make them in-house state employees, which I find an interesting decision (similar to what they did with DOT engineers a few years ago). Competition catching up to the state, and are Walker's "reforms" meaning that they're struggling to find/keep people?

      Seems worthy to keep an eye on, given that there are very few pay increases for employees in this budget, despite the ridiculous projections by LFB of a "Trump Boom", which allows for the alleged surplus that Walker is spending and tax-cutting on.

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