Pubdate: Thu, 01 May 2003
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2003 The State


TO THE EXTENT THAT anyone paid attention when Lee Catoe told a recent
Cabinet meeting about changes he has put in place since being named director
of the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, they
probably noticed his comments about mismanagement under the previous
administration. After all, that's attention-grabbing -- and this is an
agency that came under criminal investigation last year over questions about
the former director's political and business activities on government time.

But far more significant were the specific problems Mr. Catoe reported
finding, and the actions he took: He hired a new financial director, he
said, because he couldn't even determine how much money the agency had
budgeted. He canceled government contracts for 32 of the 47 cell phones the
60-employee agency had. And he canceled the lease on 3,100 square feet of
unused office space, which was costing taxpayers $51,000 a year.

Small savings, to be sure, and certainly not enough to get the state -- or
even this tiny agency -- out of its budget crisis. But the larger lesson
here is about the importance of questioning the way things have always been
done. While the need to do this seems especially clear as our state wrestles
with compounding financial problems, it is something that any well-run
organization does routinely -- and that government agencies do too

Critics of Cabinet government have always worried that giving the governor
the power to hire and fire agency directors as he pleases will lead to
turmoil, as directors rotate in and out every four or eight years.

Too often, Cabinet supporters have responded by assuring people that this
won't really be a problem, sometimes even suggesting that governors, given
true control over the executive branch, won't really take advantage of their
power, at least not on a wide-scale basis. In this way, we have missed the
point: This turnover is actually one of the most attractive side-benefits of
Cabinet government. (The primary purpose of Cabinet government, of course,
is to allow the public to make choices about the direction they want their
government to take, through the election of a governor, and have those
choices carried out.)

While change can be disruptive to employees, it is essential to improvement
- -- at least in organizations that are too status quo-oriented, as our
Legislature has taught government agencies to be.

New managers are more likely than those who have been around forever -- and
who very likely might have implemented the current policies -- to come in
and ask: Why do we do this? And they're less likely to take "because we've
always done it" for an answer. They're less wedded to practices that have
been put in place to please individual employees or legislators rather than
to serve the public. They're more willing to make changes.

While the changes made by a new administration can sometimes amount to no
more than baseless partisan cheap shots, we believe that more often they
will turn out to be healthy housecleaning, along the lines of what Mr. Catoe
is doing at the state's drug treatment agency. It's the kind of
housecleaning we need throughout state government, but that we aren't likely
to see until the governor is empowered to run the government he is elected
to run.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Josh