State Agency Head Turnover Raises Questions

Sep 6, 2013


Florida Governor Rick Scott often says he thinks the state should be run more like a business. One way it already does is by farming out responsibilities to many department heads – quite a few of whom have come and gone in Scott’s first three years on the job. But, a recent exodus of state agency chiefs has left some wondering what such a high turnover rate indicates for the state as a corporation.

Since Governor Scott took office, the news has crackled with the resignations or firings of more than a dozen state agency heads.  That doesn’t count those state employees Scott replaced at the beginning of his term as part of a typical regime change. It also doesn’t count a revolving door through which three Scott chiefs of staff have come and gone. And then there’s the door still open from Jennifer Carroll’s departure as lieutenant governor amidst an investigation which never charged her with any wrongdoing. And it has some questioning the governor’s management style. Here’s Dough Martin, the legislative director for Florida’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME.

“You know, if you had a company in such turmoil, you know, I think investors would probably think twice about the future of a company that was  involved in such continual management turmoil,”  Martin said.

Martin says if a business were run like Scott is running Florida, he thinks the company’s board of directors would probably be looking for new leadership. But Florida State University Business Professor Wayne Hochwarter, says he’s not so sure that’s the case.

“But when you take a system that is so used to doing things one way and in one flip of a switch require them to operate and to evaluate themselves in an entirely different way. Certainly, there are going to be areas where leadership just isn’t up to the task,” Hochwarter said.

Hochwarter says from his view, the governor is asking state employees to completely change the way they work, but he’s not giving them much reason to “buy in.” In fact, Hochwarter says the governor is actually alienating a lot of state workers. And he says without getting those rank-and-file workers behind his plans for change, he’s doomed to fail.

“This is all about vision. And the state workers don’t have the same vision as the governor. And then when you’ve got somebody in between trying to serve as a conduit, between the two, who’s going to look bad? The conduit. The Governor’s going to say ‘here’s what we need to do, here’s what we need to do, here’s what we need to do.’ And the employees are going to say “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it.’  And so the person who’s in between is the one is responsible for not putting the whole thing together.”

But Martin, says Hochwarter’s characterization fails to take chain of command into account.

“State works have to do what they are told to do. Otherwise they would be fired,” Martin said.

Still, Martin says state workers do feel the governor is sending a clear message that he doesn’t want them around.

Business professors contacted by WFSU also say so much state agency head turnover could also be a result of a poor vetting process or workers being on a short leash because government faces scrutiny private sector businesses do not. 

Meanwhile, in a statement, a spokeswoman from the governor’s office says “Governor Scott appreciates all the hard work by Florida’s agency heads in helping make our state the best place for families to live their version of the American Dream.”

Follow Regan McCarthy on twitter @Regan_McCarthy