Changes Needed

West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling had an interesting reaction this week to a consultant’s recommendation her agency be overhauled. Bowling, discussing the consultant’s study, said more study is needed.

On orders of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Public Works, a Pennsylvania consulting firm, prepared a lengthy report on the DHHR. Released in April, the study recommended 78 changes Public Works estimated could save taxpayers $284 million over five years. At the same time, the improvements would result in better DHHR service for West Virginians, Public Works reported.

Among changes the consultant suggested was splitting the DHHR into two divisions. One would handle health care while the other would deal with other services.

Bowling, speaking to legislators in Charleston for interim meetings this week, said she does not agree with splitting the DHHR into two divisions.

But Bowling had no specific recommendations of her own.

In her defense, it needs to be noted Bowling became head of the agency only in July. It is likely she is still becoming familiar with her job, while attempting to digest the consultant’s report.

In recommending additional study before major changes are made, Bowling told lawmakers the Public Works effort “gave us the springboard to get started on this.” She added input from various stakeholders, including the public in general, should be sought.

That probably is a good approach. Still, the DHHR is among state government’s biggest bureaucracies and is unlikely to accept foundational change gracefully. That is the nature of bureaucracies.

Public Works already has detailed 78 changes the consultant’s staff believes would save money and improve DHHR services. Unless Bowling can provide lawmakers with good reasons for disagreeing with those conclusions, at least some of them should be implemented.

In the meantime, Bowling should be given a fair amount time to conduct an in-house study. Lawmakers should give her the next three months to do that, but should tell her they want a report – and an action plan – in time for consideration when the Legislature meets for its annual regular session in January.