MAN WITH A PLAN: Gov. Hutchinson outlines reshuffling of government agencies. Brian Chilson

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced today his plan to reduce the number of cabinet-level state agencies from 42 to 15.

He said the plan would improve delivery of services and save money as well as time of people who deal with the agencies. He offered a number of general examples of combinations, but lacking are lines of authority in the agencies he proposes to create. In short, who’ll be the new boss of bosses?

Asked to estimate cost savings, he wouldn’t offer a figure.

Ideas include a number certain to produce some comment:

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* EDUCATION: He’d combine the Education Department and the Higher Education Department into “one cabinet group.” Colleges and universities remain independent because the Constitution mandates it.

* AGRICULTURE: He’d combine the Agriculture and Natural Resources agency, the latter of which deals with soil and water conservation.

* HEALTH: He’d put the Health Department and 15 health-related boards and commissions in one agency.

* REGULATION: He said he’d bring 200 boards and commission into one “umbrella agency,” but said regulatory agencies would retain rulemaking authority and special revenue.

* HOMELAND SECURITY: All law enforcement and protection agencies will be together.

* ENERGY: The Public Service Commission, Department of Enviroinmental Quality and  the Oil and Gas Commission would be together.

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* INSPECTOR GENERAL: Internal audit at Finance and Administration and the Medicaid inspector general would come together. The Fair Housing Commission would be placed there, too.

* JUSTICE SYSTEM: As previously announced, the Correction Department and Community Corrections would be merged.

* Department of Transformation and Shared Services: It would include
➢ Office of Personnel Management
➢ Division of Procurement
➢ Employee Benefits Division
➢ Division of Building Authority
➢ Department of Information Systems
➢ Geographic Information Systems

* COMMERCE: It would combine Economic Development and Workforce Services. Also, a correction from what I originally wrote, it will also include Insurance, Banking and Finance. Insurance wouldn’t be a stand-alone megadepartment, as Insurance Commissioner Allen Kerr had proposed.

Human Services won’t change much, though an early education component will shift to education.

A handful of agencies would remain independent. Some will still be called departments, but be merged, such as Insurance, Banking and Securities. (Those agences inclusion in Commerce may spell the end of Allen Kerr’s dream of building a palace for his operation across Third Street from the Capitol?)

Parks and Tourism and the Department of Heritage will be combined under his plan. But dropped was an idea that had gone around — to merge them as well with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (he confirmed the idea was discussed).  The state library and Capitol Zoning District Commission would go there as well.

He envisions that combinations will produce savings in office rents and shared services. He promises more responsive management. Some past combinations have produced complaints about the opposite result — more difficulty navigating large bureaucracies.

Speaking of the new efficiency: The governor’s news release provided this link to a list of key points of his plan. It didn’t work briefly when first posted.

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The governor said the changes would be made without additional positions. Will it include any pay increases for lead agency bosses? He also said no one would lose jobs, though some positions may be cut through attrition.

Much, if not all of this, requires legislative approval. That approval also will mean easing concerns of the constituencies of each of these agencies. For now, the governor can campaign on a promise to make government leaner, cheaper and easier to use. That’s as popular as motherhood and apple pie. But some births are difficult. And I’ve eaten a lot of bad apple pie.

The old cliche about the devil and details is in order.

Here’s the organizational chart for state government junkies (and the thousands of employees).

And here’s the outline of the 15 cabinet departments.

UPDATE: Hutchinson’s Democratic opponent, Jared Henderson, commented:

“Arkansans deserve bold leadership that solves our problems, not rearranges them. It’s clear Gov. Hutchinson is still stuck in the 40-year-old political debate of bigger government versus smaller government rather than tackling our state’s most critical problems. We need to leaders to devote this much effort into truly transforming our education system to serve every teacher and child, transforming our healthcare system to allow patients to receive affordable services and prescriptions no matter their pre-existing condition, or transforming our economy to focus on building small businesses in every community rather than bringing in overseas corporations to a handful of towns.”