Sheheen’s restructuring plan

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.

And here’s his bill on the subject.

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:

Vincent Sheheen
Guest Columnist

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.

24 thoughts on “Sheheen’s restructuring plan

  1. bud

    That bill is quite a read. Perhaps a Cliff Notes version is in order so that non-lawyer types like me can make an informed decision.

  2. Doug Ross

    I was going to reply but it would just be taken as the ranting and raving of a cynic.

    Oh, what the heck… my initial response: Gee, you mean we have no accountability in our state government now? Isn’t that what I’ve been saying for the twenty years I’ve lived here?

    And my other cynical response: should I assume the Government Accountability Act will work as well as the Education Accountability Act? i.e. the one that hasn’t done (to quote Matt Foley) “jack squat” in reducing the number of dropouts in the state?

    Call me uninspired.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    How does cutting the money “it has to waste” make it accountable? It just makes it poorer. “Government” is not this monolith. There are individual politicians, government employees, and so on, each of whom has differing motivations and control over how funds are allocated. Starving DSS, say, doesn’t hurt the legislators doing the starving. Putting a moratorium on capital projects at universities doesn’t hurt the Budget and Cotrol Board–it hurts the students who have to live off campus or study in decrepit buildings, or the parents who pay to send their kids out-of-state to better funded schools, and all of us left behind as the talent drains away….

  4. Brad

    Um… Doug, if you’ve been saying that for 20 years, then I suppose it’s because I’ve been writing it for 20 years, over and over and over and over again, and you’ve picked up on it, although perhaps subliminally.

    Not that the idea was original to me. I got it from Walter Edgar and Blease Graham. And multiple blue-ribbon commissions that studied our form of government since WWII had reached the same conclusions. I’m just the guy who came up with the catchy phrases like “The Government that Answers to No One.

    And Bud, if you want the Cliff Notes, read that blog post I referred you to. Or Vincent’s 2007 op-ed piece above.

  5. Brad

    One of the stranger assertions I’ve heard over and over in the past is this one that suddenly priorities will get straightened out if there’s not enough money. We know from repeated experience that when there’s not enough money, the good gets cut along with the bad, and government gets WORSE, not better.

  6. Doug Ross


    Gee, when my son was applying to USC they didn’t mention the decrepit buildings. All he heard was what a fantastic place it was.

    Just like the government, they aren’t hurting at all for money. They just choose to spend it on things that are not in the best interest of the community.

  7. Doug Ross

    And here’s my beef with Sheheen’s plan: if it’s so good, why can’t he get it done? What power will he have as Governor to do it?

  8. Mark Stewart

    Doug’s argument is circular. Sorry, but there it is.

    Please tell me – us – how and where the state budget can be cut in the “best interest of the community”?

    Yes there is waste. There always is in government as in the private sector. But there is also a vast array of worthy activities that ought to be funded rationally.

    So if Sheheen can make even small inroads into making both the legislature and the executive branch more accountable, why is that not a win for the state? How else does the state begin to move forward?

    One can’t gripe about the power that two locally-elected legislators have over our state and then not support the idea of reforming government short of bombing the budget as a solution. Because that will only destroy this state, not this state’s power structure.

  9. Doug Ross


    I support reforming government but I also know that Sheheen has no chance to do it. It will not happen in out lifetimes because those in power won’t allow it to happen.

    Please tell me what power he will have as governor to make it happen? Let’s say Sheheen wins – what will you use as the metrics to determine if he has been successful four years from now?

    The best thing we could hope for would be a Haley blowout that would allow her to have the bully pulpit to affect change.

    I’m not interested in watching this farce known as the South Carolina state government continue doing all the things it does. Other states can implement major change – we can’t. And we can’t because of the people in the State House.

  10. bud

    The problem with restructuring to make government more accountable is that it can be done so badly. In the early 90s I was on board with restructuring. It all sounded so grand. We just consolidate a gazillion agencies into a few dozen, make the different agency directors Governor appointees and voila all is right with the world.

    Trouble is it just didn’t work out that way and we’re once again spending time discussing this whole issue. Frankly I’d bet my right leg that if we ever to get around to restructuring it will just make things worse as it did in 1993. Can someone explain how we went from one agency (SCDHPT) housed in a single building with one accounting office, one procurement office, one IT, etc, etc to 3 agencies spread out across the county. One of those agencies operated out of smelly, leaky trailers for 5 years. Folks moved 3, 4, 5 or more times. Turf battles sprang up among people who used to be friends.

    This whole array of utter inefficiency has finally settled down to a large extent but the fact remains that many hundreds of additional employees are now on the payroll of the states taxpayers. There is no more efficiency. What accountability that occured was abused by the governor.

    We need to tread very carefully on this issue. The taxpayers just cannot afford more “efficiency” and “accountability” as was heaped on them in 1993. I suggest a few simple moves to create a few cabinet agencies rather than a grandiose scheme to fix everything at once. We don’t need to botch this. Given the MSM’s utter lack of doing their job, as was the case in 1993 we’re unlikely to even know how badly the job is done. That’s because now as then the MSM has a vested interest in restructuring. They can’t point out it’s failure.

    I say yes to restructuring but not to the extent it’s proponents want. That way we can achieve a few good changes without creating a new monster. And this time the media damn sure needs to do it’s job. It’s a crying shame if they don’t.

  11. Doug Ross

    Now that I’ve had a chance to read Sheheen’s bill, it raises more questions.

    Why is the Secretary of Education excluded from being appointed by the Governor? One of the greatest issues facing the state is the sorry performance of our public schools. There is no accountability in that area – otherwise why would we continue to see such dismal dropout rates for the past decades? This provision to leave the Sec’y of Education as an elected office appears to be a case of trying to hold onto the one state level office that Democrats have been able to win.

    Why is there specific language stating that race and gender be considered in the selection of the department heads? Do we want the best people or the most diverse departments?

    After reading the bill in its entirety, all I can say is “Good luck!” Who among us believes that the Legislature will cede more power to the Governor? What’s in it for them (the question that they always ask first)?

  12. Barry

    A governor can get large portions of restructing done- but the Governor HAS TO APPROACH it from a deep seated belief that working with the other side is the only way to get it done. They can’t approach it as a “my way or the highway” deal.

    Mark Sanford ran against Columbia as much as he ran against Jim Hodges. He blistered Columbia the entire time he ran for office. That sounded good- but it made a lot of folks mad as well. Nikki Haley has approached it in a similiar way. The commercial she is running now talks about the typical way of doing things in COlumbia (ignoring the fact she’s been right there in the middle of it all).

    Mark Sanford had some good ideas on restructuring. That is why I voted for him. But he was totally unwilling to sit down with the other side (or his own side) and accept some other ideas to go along with his own.

    A governor can’t run and take the position that everyone in the General Assembly is nuts- and he/she is going to set them straight. That apporach won’t work. In reality, that approach backfires before it even gets started.

    One candidate in this race indicates at least an interest in sitting down with all sides. One candidate in this race has actually introduced an actual bill on the subject and worked behind the scenes to try to get some of it accomplished. One candidate in this race wants to run against “Columbia.”

    As I have said, I have no interest in a 3rd Mark Sanford term.

  13. Doug Ross

    Since I will be out of state on election day, I cast my absentee ballot today.

    My basic rule: vote for the Libertarian candidate if one was listed except for one major exception.

    Voted against the sales tax increase and associated bond question. If we want to fix the roads, fix the roads and stop spending money on other stuff.

    Wrote in Emile DeFelice for Secretary of Agriculture even though he wasn’t running this time.

    For Richland 2 School board, I voted for two non-incumbents and left my other two choices blank. There is no need for us to have school board members sitting on the board for 24 years, 20 years, and 12 years. Two terms is more than enough. We need new ideas and a less cozy relationship with the district administration.

    Now, for the Governor vote, I weighed the options. I considered everything I know about the two candidates. I thought about who I would want to see in the position… someone who I could trust to do the right thing.

    So I wrote in Mark Stewart. I would encourage everyone else on this blog to do the same thing… even if he “ain’t from ’round here”.

  14. Barry

    Doug- agree with you on your roads comment – fix them but don’t spend money on everything else.

    I’m going to vote for the penny tax in Kershaw County (I don’t live in Richland – I may have voted against it if I lived there) -mainly because the it will only last for 8 years and the list of projects it will fund is fixed and specific.

  15. Doug Ross

    Yahoo has an article on the top five states for business and careers. Utah ranks number 1.


    “We have a fiscally conservative government where we are trying to keep government off your backs and out of your wallet. We want the free market do what it does best,” says Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican running for a full term this year after taking over the job in August 2009, when then Gov. Jon Huntsman was appointed U.S. ambassador to China.

    Utah lowered its corporate tax rate from 7% to 5% in 2008, to the delight of businesses. The rate is now one of the lowest in the country. The regulatory climate is also pro-business, with the Pacific Research Institute rating Utah second-best in the regulatory component of its U.S. Economic Freedom Index. “We want to make sure we don’t have any nonsensical regulations that inhibit the private sector from expanding and having a profitable bottom line,” says Hebert.”

    I worked in Salt Lake City for two months earlier this year and have to agree. There is a different attitude toward work – maybe its a Mormon thing. They also have high student test scores but lower cost per student. How do they accomplish that? More actively involved parents on the whole.

  16. scout


    You say, “One of the greatest issues facing the state is the sorry performance of our public schools. There is no accountability in that area – otherwise why would we continue to see such dismal dropout rates for the past decades?”

    Why would accountability necessarily correct the dropout problem? Accountability would presumably exact consequences for failures. The failures would continue despite consequences being exacted if the solution to the problem was outside the realm of control of those being held accountable for it.

    I’m not saying that that is the case here, just that your reasoning is flawed to assume that accountability alone would automatically fix any problem.

    The education challenge in our state is huge in scope. There certainly seem to be cases where those being held accountable don’t have a lot of control over the factors that affect outcome.

    Until we are willing to look at the whole problem and attack it on multiple fronts instead of just throwing educators, alone, under the bus through “accountability”, it will continue to be a problem.

    I believe Sheheen is far more apt to appreciate and attempt to attack the whole problem. I see Haley as continuing the simplistic scapegoat approach.

  17. Doug Ross


    Accountability would mean exactly what you describe. Exacting consequences for failures. Let’s start with the assumption that there are ineffective teachers and ineffective principals out there who have remained in their jobs. Wouldn’t it be safe to say that that if those ineffective people were removed from the system that there would be at least incremental overall improvement? One big issue I’ve had with the teaching establishment is that they tend very strongly toward a “bunker mentality” that has one commandment: “Thou shalt never say a bad work about another teacher” That attitude has to change.

    Then lets turn to paying teachers more, especially those who demonstrate excellent performance. That would probably lead to better teachers entering the pool, again incrementally improving overall performance.

    And the accountability should extend to parents and students as well. Discipline is a big issue. It impacts the ability of teachers to teach. We need to stop coddling kids and setting higher standards for behavior. We also need to create incentives for good performance by students. I would not allow a student to participate in sports unless they were at a C average or better in all classes.

    All I can say is that I’ve had kids in the South Carolina public education system for 17 years and it is worse now than it was when they began in my view. This is despite all sorts of testing, special programs, hundreds of millions of dollars of spending on buildings, tens of millions of dollars of spending on technology.

    I recognize it is a

  18. Mark Stewart


    Fair enough; I did ask for your vote.

    While I wish you might have used the power of the vote a little more effectively; thanks for voting absentee instead of simply being absent from the process as so many people choose to do.

    We will truly only change the structure of government in this state when the majority see that they have ceeded their interests to the parochial few.

  19. Barry

    Doug –

    I think the Morman aspect of that is a huge deal – especially with respect to the family structure.

  20. The Right Indignant Kathryn Braun Fenner (Mrs. Stephen A.)

    Accountability is only effective to the extent it motivates effective performance. Holding someone accountable for circumstances beyond his or her control is sadistic and probably counterproductive, as it introduces a warping aspect of pressure.

    Doubtless there are teachers not performing at their most effective levels, as is the case in every job. Are there plenty of better ones in the wings, just waiting for a chance at a mediocre salary in exchange for being the scapegoat for our educational and societal shortcomings?

    I think not.

  21. Doug Ross


    If the teachers can’t do the job, they shouldn’t have the job. If the job is too hard, they should say why LOUDLY and CLEARLY. They don’t. Why? Job security.

    As a parent of one current and two very recent public school students, I could tell you stories about teacher behavior that you could never defend. There was one teacher in my kids’ elementary school who was moved from 1st to 5th to 2nd to 4th grades because she was so awful. Four years worth of students were impacted by her inability to teach. That doesn’t happen in the real world.

    Involved parents know who the good teachers are and who the bad ones are. We steer our kids away from the bad ones because there is no accountability to deal with the bad ones. In a good district like Richland 2, it’s probably one 10-15% of the teachers who are ineffective. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the lesser districts.

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