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Senate Targets DMS

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-893076.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – A Senate proposal to break up the Florida Department of Management Services is picking up momentum as it heads to the Senate floor. A measure assigning DMS staff and responsibilities to other agencies passed out of the Ways and Means Committee on a 21-2 vote.

Democratic Senator Jeremy Ring is shepherding a DMS reorganizational proposal through the Legislature. Ring has an entrepreneurial spirit. He made millions while working in Silicon Valley during the dot.com boom. He enjoys tinkering with processes and notes there has not been a restructuring of a department in more than twenty years.

"Which means every time we have created anything new, what have we done? We've thrown it into DMS. Now, that is just the way it went down, but ultimately these agencies get too big. I keep hearing we have to hear from the agency. We are the legislature. We make these policy calls. It is not the agency who makes this call; it is the Legislature who makes the policy call on reorganization."

Ring kept hearing from caucus leader Senator Al Lawson about the need to call agency and department heads to discuss how the state manages things. While Lawson fights a mostly lonely battle in the Legislature to stop the plan, until the Ways and Means meeting, Ring was the only Democrat to support it. Right now, DMS reports to the governor. Ring would have its replacements report to the cabinet or the CFO. Ring would create a Department of Personnel and a Department of Asset Management to oversee property and buildings and put the Department of Financial Services in charge of purchasing and negotiations of leases.

Lawson argued Senators are making the decision in the dark. He said a fiscal impact study has not been performed and that lawmakers haven't vetted the plan with department representatives.

"I will tell members that in a situation like this, we should have testimony. We should have called the department in and asked them their opinion and how it would affect other areas. Whether they wanted to do it or not, I think the membership here deserved the right to know exactly what they feel is going to happen."

However, others said the issue was about performance and that they have given up trying to get information from DMS and its more than one thousand employees. Ways and Means Chairman J.D. Alexander said he has been trying for more than four years to get the department to respond to his requests for information.

"We ask and ask and ask for more responsive information, more responsive management of purchasing contracts, more responsive everything. We haven't gotten it, and at some point in time, if we don't hold executive branch agencies and leadership accountable for their lack of performance, then there is never going to be any performance. They think that the Legislature is a paper tiger, it doesn't mean what it says."

Bureaucrats sharpen pencils when they fight. In January of 2009, Alexander pushed a bill ordering DMS to create an inventory of state owned properties and buildings and where they are. Florida owns about eighteen-thousand buildings, and DMS has been unable to produce a list for Alexander. He also is frustrated with DMS awarding no-bid contracts, especially one which was then outsourced to a foreign country. Alexander, the Senate's chief budget writer, suspects DMS is costing Florida millions of dollars.

"How do you have any confidence in a leadership of DMS that does something like that, and if we continue to allow that to occur, as a Legislature are we not complicit in the mismanagement of the people's resources that ultimately keeps us from funding the senior center that Senator Sobel is interested in or whatever else that we are trying to do that is a priority of the state of Florida?"

Twenty other senators agreed with Alexander remarks. There were two no votes from Senators Lawson and Gary Siplin. The proposal is expected to make it to the floor sometime next week. The House does not have a companion measure to eliminate DMS. It is working on reorganizing the Department of Health.