Bureaucratic shuffles

February 26, 1991

Good executives tailor their organizations to make best use of their talented managers, and that may be what Governor Schaefer is doing with his proposal to shuffle the functions of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Human Resources, Juvenile Services and Education. The reorganization would eliminate one entity -- Human Resources -- and create another, a Department of Income and Health Security to handle welfare and medical assistance programs. In addition, Juvenile Services would become the Department of Children, Youth and Family Services, allowing a consolidation of services for young people and families under the direction of Nancy Grasmick.

This latest proposal reflects changes suggested by legislators -- and that in itself is a good sign. Moreover, by dropping the number of proposed departments that would emerge from the shuffle from five to four, the administration has come up with a plan legislators can consider on its merits, rather than worrying about excessive additional costs.

On paper, the plan could bring positive changes. One example: Maryland has long had a problem coordinating its services for children and their families. Programs for protecting children from abuse and neglect have been housed in one department while young people in trouble with the law have been the responsibility of a different entity. In the new plan, those services would be housed under one roof -- presumably resulting result in smoother coordination and more effective programs for early intervention with at-risk children and troubled young people.

But paper plans are one thing, and reality is another. The success of any policy for children, families and young people will ultimately depend on the efficiency of government as a whole, not simply one department. The proposed structure has its merits, but the real test of effective services will come in day-to-day practice, in the willingness and ability of the people leading these departments, in whatever form they take, to work together for the good of the people they serve.

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