Secret Merger Plan Created for State Agencies
The LePage administration has prepared a detailed plan for the governor’s proposed merger of the Departments of Agriculture and Conservation, although it has not been circulated and its existence was a surprise to some key people in those agencies whom I contacted for comments.
I received the plan from an anonymous source after writing about the merger in my weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel.
Governor LePage met recently with members of the Natural Resources Network, seeking their opinions and support, and told them that he would not proceed with the proposal unless and until they were on board. That meeting also received no publicity.
The Natural Resources Network is an alliance of organizations whose members depend on Maine’s natural resources for business and recreation. NRN members are the Maine Forest Products Council, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine Potato Board, Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, Maine Aquaculture Association, Maine Dairy Industry Association, Maine Snowmobile Association, Maine Lobsterman’s Association, Wild Blueberry Commission, Maine Trappers Association, Maine Farm Bureau, Maine Professional Guides Association, Maine Bowhunters Association, and Independent Energy Producers Association.
While the initial reaction to the governor’s proposal was favorable from agricultural groups, they’ve stepped back from that and are now expressing concerns focused on the impact that the Maine Forest Service might have on the Department of Agriculture. The Forest Service is currently housed in the Department of Conservation and has the potential to dominate the Agriculture Department if it’s moved there. Farm groups emphasize that they want an ag commissioner who is a farmer, not a forester.
Environmental and conservation groups are reacting negatively to the suggestion that the Department of Agriculture should house and govern the state’s Parks and Lands Bureau.
The merger document is titled, “A Road Map to Efficiency and Collaboration,” and lists seven “key points” to support its contention that the merger, “is one that makes a great deal of sense for Maine’s future.” “It is not being proposed as a great cost saving measure,” reports the document, “rather as a way to make state government smarter and more efficient.”
The document is designed to, “serve as a road map to a successful merger. It discussed the various independent functions of each of the Department’s divisions and bureaus, aligns similar functions and areas of expertise, then suggests an organizational structure using these similarities.”
For example, the merger plan details the responsibilities and authority of Agriculture’s Division of Plant Industry that includes the Board of Pesticides Control, and Conservation’s Division of Forest Health and Monitoring, proposing to merge the two into the Bureau of Forest and Plant Health. To me, it sounds sensible, and the planning document makes a good case that this merger would achieve the goals of improved efficiency and effectiveness.
Although the Land Use Regulation Commission is in the Conservation Department, the plan ignores that agency, due to the fact it is the subject of a different proposal recently offered by a special task force.
Of most interest to me is the surprising suggestion in this plan that the Bureau of Parks and Lands might go to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, instead of the Department of Agriculture. This suggestion was actually addressed in my newspaper column (referenced with a link above).
“The Bureau of Parks and Lands can remain in the new (merged) department as a stand along entity,” reports the planning document. “Recently though, there has been much discussion that it might be advantageous to move the Bureau of Parks and Lands to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“Proponents of this idea say that it would be beneficial to have all ‘recreation assets’ under one roof. Further, both the Bureau of Parks and Lands and DIFW have strikingly similar programs which are, in the eyes of many, highly redundant.
“For example, both agencies have boat launch programs which operate very similarly, but are under two separate agencies. Also, DIFW is a holder of a significant amount of acreage across Maine with its wildlife management areas. Many argue that all state owned lands should be managed by one agency. The transfer of the Bureau of Parks and Lands to DIFW would accomplish this goal.”
There’s certainly been no public discussion of this proposal, nor has the governor hinted that it is being considered. The reaction of the public – particularly sportsmen who consider DIFW “their agency,” will be very interesting!