Hard work, creativity, and partnerships can still make a difference in government. We just have to be willing to try.
For years, I, along with several of my colleagues, pushed for the modernization of South Carolina’s government. The effort culminated in passage of the S.C. Restructuring Act of 2014, which has resulted in increased accountability of state agencies, more streamlined government and taxpayer savings.
The law’s two critical components were consolidating administrative functions into a Department of Administration and increasing legislative oversight of executive agencies. Both efforts have been wildly successful.
The Department of Administration began operations July 1, 2015, and has met with huge success in streamlining executive functions and saving taxpayer dollars. While too many of South Carolina’s agencies continue to be dysfunctional and underperforming, the Department of Administration has been recognized as an outstanding success.
Previously, many of the department’s divisions were disbursed throughout state government, operated in a fragmented and unaccountable manner. The new agency consolidated functions and is managed by an appointee of the governor who is approved by the Senate. This structure allows the department to partner with other agencies and to refine the state’s focus on better stewardship of the resources entrusted to all agencies.
In a little more than two years, the agency has moved our state dramatically forward in saving money and enhancing the security of state systems and data. These advancements are the result of centralizing key state government functions and having those functions overseen by one accountable agency.
The department achieved cost savings through smart efforts such as shared services. Before, state agencies procured products and delivered services individually. The Administration Department’s coordinated efforts leverage the state’s buying power through bulk purchasing and brokered services, savings millions in taxpayer dollars.
The department has started implementation of a Statewide Information Technology Plan. So instead of agencies buying multiple varieties of computers, common standards for computers and software leverage the state’s buying power, with projected savings of $10 million per year. The department’s effort to broker other shared services, such as renegotiating K-12 internet and wide area network contracts, also produced approximately $14.25 million in annual savings.
The shared services approach is not just for IT. Work is underway to consolidate janitorial contracts across multiple agencies into one centralized contract, with projected annual savings of $1 million.
This oversight is critical to exposing waste, dysfunction and scandal like we experienced during the previous two governors’ administrations.
The department is also working to make sure the state’s real estate portfolio is the right size, including selling surplus property and establishing office space standards. These standards are saving more than $1.4 million over the terms of leases and reducing the amount of state-leased office space by more than 23,323 square feet. Since its creation, the department has sold 17 state surplus properties, bringing $4.8 million of revenue to the owning agencies. Those sales also mean the state will save money by not maintaining buildings it no longer needs.
The second prong of the 2014 law was increased legislative oversight and examination of executive agencies. This oversight is critical to exposing waste, dysfunction and scandal like we experienced during the previous two governors’ administrations.
During the past 10 years, governors have too often neglected the state agencies they are supposed to lead, resulting in scandal after scandal in agency after agency. Since 2015, thanks to the restructuring law, the General Assembly has been conducting regular hearings examining state agency operations. The result has been the exposure of executive branch incompetence and waste that is frankly breathtaking. Starting with the Department of Social Services and spreading through multiple other agencies, the restructuring law has provided the mechanism for the Legislature to blow the whistle on the failings of these executive branch agencies.
Much has changed in state government as a result of this law. Change is hard, especially in a place like South Carolina. But with persistence, hard work and good-will, we can still make a difference in government. After all, our government is a reflection of our people and is a shared responsibility for us all.
Sen. Sheheen is an attorney from Kershaw County; contact him at VincentSheheen@scsenate.gov.