Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Just a short note about the merger of the Michigan Department of Community Health and Michigan Department of Human Services.
Governor Rick Snyder signed Executive Order 2015-4 on February 6, 2015, merging the Department of Community Health and Department Human Services. At a Tuesday morning press conference, Governor Rick Snyder officially declared the new Department of Health & Human Services open for business.
History teaches that when two state departments are consolidated, the core purpose of one constituent department often takes precedence and overshadows that of the other constituent department. As a consequence, the mission of one of the constituent agencies is sometimes lost in the reorganization process.
For instance, Governor Jennifer Granholm's 2009 consolidation of the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality was originally billed in part as a money-saving move. However, the combined department continued to grow, becoming increasingly bureaucratic and unfocused.* When the DNR and DEQ were again separated in 2011, only two years later, the governor's office curiously explained that the primary reason for the split was to allow "separately functioning departments . . . to better focus on their core mission[s]."
And consider Governor Engler's 1996-1997 consolidation of the Department of Mental Health and Department of Public Health. Today, it is almost difficult to remember a time when the delivery of mental-health services was a priority in Michigan, much less a time when the issue was considered important enough to warrant its own state department. When the Departments of Mental Health and Public Health were consolidated, the combined department's mental-health mission took a backseat and essentially shriveled on the vine.
I sincerely hope that the delivery of health services (at least what remains of them), family services, and services for children all remain priorities in Michigan. Only time will tell if the new Michigan Department of Health & Human Services can remain faithful to all of its constituent missions.
* Just to be clear, I did not support the creation of the DEQ in the first instance. I do not believe that, from an environmental perspective, it is necessarily better to have a separate DNR and DEQ. My point is merely that when two departments are combined, the entrenched bureaucracy often drives the trajectory of the consolidated department and some of the old focus tends to be lost.