Legislation proposed to overhaul DHS

Tuesday, February 19th 2008, 8:01 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

It was slapped with a massive federal lawsuit last week and then hit again on Monday with a multi-million dollar federal funding cut.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is facing difficult and uncertain times.

The legislature has done its share of tinkering with DHS and its agencies over the years, but there seems to be a growing belief at the Capitol, reinforced by the filing of the federal lawsuit last week, that the time has come for a major overhaul.

Perhaps the most drastic attempt at doing that comes in the form of House Bill 2890. Richard Morrissette's wants to attempt to make DHS less unwieldy, by splitting it into three independent agencies. The agencies would be children and family services, aging services, and developmental disabilities.

"I've been dealing with DHS for years as an attorney over in the juvenile system, and it's my absolute conclusion that this agency has to be rebuilt from the ground up," Morrissette said.

Another measure, House Bill 2748, calls for an independent audit. Rep. Susan Winchester said its goal is to improve efficiency, eliminate communications barriers, reduce worker turnover, implement better training, and improve outcomes.

"We'd like to look at the overall picture of the department," Winchester said. "We'd like to bring in a non-biased, non-political approach to that, and that would be the result of an outside audit."

DHS spokesman George Johnson said if lawmakers want to order an outside audit or deconstruct the department, that's their prerogative.

Of greater concern right now is the federal lawsuit, which, he says, exaggerates the department's problems and the potential loss of $34 million in Medicaid funds as part of a mandatory deficit-reduction act.

DHS Director Howard Hendrick has already sent a letter to Washington, asking that Oklahoma be exempted from the cut.