As part of a cost-cutting budget designed to avoid broad new taxes but protect service levels, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recently proposed combining four state departments -- Human Services, Health, Drug and Alcohol, and Aging -- into one consolidated agency. In effect, the proposal would rewind reorganizations spanning decades that provided separate cabinet-level leadership to constituencies arguing that separation would best represent their specialized needs.
As a longtime public administrator, including a stint as Pennsylvania's secretary of public welfare in the 1990s, I've had my hand in a number of these reorganizations that critics often label as exercises in "moving the boxes." I've been involved in some that worked reasonably well and some that didn't. I've learned a few things, and I've heard all the arguments.