This week lawmakers are expected to take up legislation reforming the Department of Human Services, including a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would eliminate the current DHS oversight commission, and a bill allowing the governor to appoint the agency director with Senate confirmation.
On the whole, we believe these measures merit support. The current system is simply not working as well as it should. DHS is the only state agency to be the subject of three class-action lawsuits in recent decades, and its track record of failure in child welfare cases is extensive.
Recent depositions made clear the current commission was simply rubber-stamping the director's recommendations. Under the new plan, at least the director (and the governor) would be under immense political pressure to improve the agency.
Furthermore, the governors of 49 other states have similar DHS appointment power, so Oklahoma would hardly be breaking new ground.
Some may fear regular turnover if the director is a political appointee, but we doubt a governor will want to take the heat for replacing a competent administrator. And rather than a revolving door, Oklahoma's problems have involved DHS directors hanging on for too long.
Under the reforms, four volunteer citizen panels, appointed by officials from both political parties, would provide subject-area oversight that has been lacking at DHS.
The legislation could impact the ongoing search for a new director, but logistical problems can be addressed if the current commission keeps the governor informed until voters decided the fate of the state question in November.
These reforms promise to increase public accountability at DHS. By making the agency head “political,” that individual will have to be responsive to citizens, and that figures to be a good thing.
After careful consideration, we urge lawmakers to pass these bills and allow Oklahomans to vote on this important issue.