Legislature to Vote on Mega-Agency Plan Despite These Strike Force Warnings

On Sunday, the House is scheduled to consider SB 200, the bill containing the proposal to consolidate health and human services agencies into a mega-agency.The Senate may also take up the proposal soon as part of HB 2578.

The current proposals would consolidate three of the five agencies. Texans Care for Children opposes the consolidation plan. As we wrote in this recent op-ed, we believe creation of a mega-agency would undermine services to children and families, create new inefficiencies, and distract agency staff from higher priorities.

But you don’t have to take our word for it. Here are a few excerpts from the recent report by the Health and Human Services Strike Force created by the Governor to review HHSC contracting and management.

The Strike Force says consolidation will undermine contracting reform and agencies’ "primary missions,” such as providing health services to people with disabilities:

"Consolidation could be mandated, and even accomplished on paper, but the results are not likely to meet the Sunset [Commission] vision and are more likely to hamper the HHS agencies’ ability to execute their primary missions, as well as fixing the [contracting] problems detailed in this report.”

The Strike Force says that creation of a mega-agency would create a new series of inefficiencies:

"[A] single large bureaucracy may make HHS programs even less accessible and efficient than the current structure, even with its flaws.”

The Strike Force paints a picture of a bottleneck at the top of the proposed mega-agency:

"Full consolidation would create enormous potential problems with span of control and oversight for the executive commissioner, particularly in the current environment, in which some agency management decisions already have been publicly questioned in the media and the Legislature.”
"Without a clear delegation of authority for various functions — essentially what the current structure creates with five separate agencies — the potential for a massive logjam of competing priorities at the top of the organization is significant if not inevitable.”

The Strike Force explains what those bureaucratic challenges could really mean:

"Would, for example, a public health division within HHSC move as nimbly to confront a disease outbreak as the Department of Health Services did during the recent Ebola scare?
Could the agency even attract the talent needed to run these functions effectively if their leaders would no longer be commissioners, but division directors within a large agency?”

With the legislative session coming to an end soon, lawmakers should let go of this proposal and spend their time focused on other priorities.