Speaking of Doug Ross — back on a previous post, Doug complains again, and with considerable justice, that Vincent Sheheen is light on details about his advocacy for government reform. Well, he isn’t if you ASK him, but he doesn’t OFFER such explication — probably because he thinks everybody but Brad Warthen is bored by such stuff.
Well, here’s a little something to fill in the gaps (in addition to what I got him to say on “The Brad Show” last week). First, here’s a blog post I wrote at the time he came to pitch his plan to us at The State — long before he started to run for governor.
In case you have trouble with the link (from my blog post) to his op-ed on the subject (it’s a Word file), here’s what he wrote at the time:
REVAMPING TWO BRANCHES OF OUR GOVERNMENT
For more than a decade, our great state has engaged in a repetitive argument over which branch of government should have more power, the legislative branch or the executive branch. This contentious argument about the balance of power misses the point and too often degenerates into fruitless bickering. The real point is that neither branch effectively fulfills its role in controlling and overseeing government operations and programs. We are trying to run a modern, sovereign government with essentially the same antiquated tools used for more than 100 years.
Our state’s government operation is like a multi-headed hydra, each head having a mind of its own, with little cooperation and no central guiding spirit. Our agencies often pursue their own agendas, operating in separate chimneys with little independent, organized oversight and no outside, regular evaluation of operations, programs or policies.
It is time to fundamentally change and modernize our government’s form, structure and mode of operation to create accountability within both the executive and legislative branches. During the next session of the General Assembly, I will propose the Government Accountability Act of 2008. If enacted, this legislation will transform the General Assembly’s operations, by requiring real oversight of government agencies. It will streamline our executive branch and increase accountability in government operations.
First, the bill requires the Legislature to fulfill its duties as an independent and effective branch of government with an obligation to continually evaluate and examine the operations of state programs and agencies. As currently structured, our Legislature simply passes laws and fails to perform almost any regular oversight of the effectiveness of state government or programs. My proposal provides a framework for the Legislature to fulfill these responsibilities.
The bill will force our General Assembly to move into the modern age by conducting regular oversight hearings on the operations of state government through adaptation of its current committee structure. Each committee will be required to systematically examine the operations of state government that fall within its jurisdictional boundaries, evaluating the real need for existing programs and determining what the future requires. Only then will the General Assembly truly be able to make informed decisions about the needs of our state.
Additionally, the Government Accountability Act will require the General Assembly to change our current budget practices. Right now, our annual appropriations bill is little more than an accounting document, listing out agencies and amounts of money allocated to them. Under my proposal, the Legislature will have to utilize a programmatic budget, requiring that each program have objective performance criteria for legislators to consider as we decide how much money is deserved for a specific program.
The bill will create a more efficient and functional executive branch by reducing the number of statewide elected officials, consolidating offices and devolving more power to the governor’s office. Importantly, the proposal will shift all truly administrative functions away from the Budget and Control Board and vest them in the governor. By making more agencies directly answerable to the governor and consolidating administrative functions, we provide the governor with more authority to fulfill his role as chief executive of the state. With increased authority will come increased responsibility and accountability for our governor to produce results.
To bring even further accountability to government operations, the bill will create an office of inspector general and strengthen protections for civic-minded state employees who report waste and misconduct. The office of inspector general will be charged with rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in the operations of state government. It is time that South Carolina has an officer whose single-minded purpose is investigating and evaluating such problems.
My bill will also strengthen our currently weak whistleblower law to encourage state employees to blow the whistle on misconduct, inappropriate practices or waste that hinders the proper functioning of our state government.
Empowering our government is not a zero-sum game. No one has to lose. In fact, the proposed Government Accountability Act makes all of South Carolina the winner. We must increase the efficacy of our government by changing the traditional role of the General Assembly to require continuous evaluation of government operations and programs. We must reform our budget process, restructure the executive branch to place more responsibility on the governor and create an inspector general to investigate and prosecute government misconduct.
Increasing power and accountability in one branch without addressing the deficiencies in the other will result in disappointment. The time for change is now; we cannot afford to wait.
Mr. Sheheen is a Camden attorney who represents Chesterfield, Kershaw and Lancaster counties in the state Senate.
If Vincent can get elected governor, he will have enormous leverage to get this passed. Which is one reason that a wonk like me is excited about his candidacy.