Will services improve if 4 state agencies merge into 1 department?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – They are the agencies that protect seniors and children, that help the poor and those struggling with addiction — four agencies now that Gov. Tom Wolf wants to consolidate into one mega-department.

The heads of all four departments – Health, Aging, Human Services, and Drug and Alcohol Programs – appeared at a public hearing Wednesday, all four saying becoming one is a good idea.

Why?

“The answer we have is because we know we can do it better,” acting Drug and Alcohol Secretary Jennifer Smith said.

“We can serve the consumer better, we can make it easier for providers to concentrate on providing those services, and we can save money,” Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas said.

And perhaps less red tape.

“We created bureaucratic silos because folks don’t like to check their egos at the door. They don’t like to share information,” Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne said. “We like to say this is yours, that’s mine as opposed to focusing on the ours.”

Wolf insists consolidating will save $90 million in the upcoming year. There are doubts.

“I must say, in looking at the details of your budget plan, there only seems to be about 9.6 million in savings,” Republican Sen. Lisa Baker said.

“How do you plan to recognize those savings in a year for this year’s budget when other states took years to implement this?” Republican Sen. Michele Brooks asked.

The secretaries promised a detailed plan by next month, and they said a bill is being drafted. But for now, there are more questions than answers.

“How many layoffs are there going to be?” Republican Sen. Camera Bartolotta asked. “How many employees are going to be terminated? What savings is that going to yield for the overall department?”

There’s expected to be 550 positions eliminated in an 18,000-person agency, but this unification requires the legislature to sign off. Sen. Scott Martin’s not a yes yet.

“I think, in theory, if done correctly, it could be a very good thing, but we shouldn’t just do it for the sake of lumping things together, lopping off a couple secretaries at the top and voila, we’re done,” he said.

There are 15 states that have consolidated their health and human services agencies.

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