More than one-third of what West Virginia state government spends each year goes through the Department of Health and Human Resources. Most West Virginia residents are affected by the agency in one way or another.
It seems little enough for taxpayers to ask that the DHHR be operated efficiently. Yet there is room for substantial improvement, according to a consultant's report to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Hired to look primarily at whether the state should expand its Medicaid program, the consultant found more efficient practices could save the DHHR $50 million a year. State officials say they are eager to adopt the recommendation, in part to help pay for expansion of Medicaid.
While $50 million is a substantial amount of money, it represents only about 1.2 percent of the DHHR's spending, which is around $4.2 billion a year. From that perspective, the consultant's recommendation certainly appears to be achievable.
No doubt the agency will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into an efficiency campaign, however. If you doubt that, consider the DHHR's state government cousin, the Department of Education. Another consultant recommended ways to save money there, but the agency resisted.
Many West Virginia residents have had to tighten our own belts during the past few years. Most state agencies were told to reduce spending by 7.5 percent in order to keep the state's budget in balance.
Tomblin should require the DHHR to prepare a detailed reaction to the consultant's report - and he shouldn't accept excuses. Then, he and, if necessary, the Legislature should hold the agency to a specific plan of achieving efficiencies cited by the consultant.
The process should begin this summer - and should be monitored closely to ensure it does not fall victim to the bureaucratic tricks, such as "baseline budgeting," so often used to avoid saving money in government.