State looks to streamline departments

Two state lawmakers are proposing to establish an independent commission to find ways to consolidate, overhaul or eliminate state departments.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, and Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, are proposing what they call a "BRAC" commission for state government.

BRAC is the acronym of the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which was empaneled by Congress to handle the politically delicate matter of identifying unneeded military bases to be shut down.

The commission proposed by Schmidt and Tafanelli would be called the Kansas Government Streamlining Commission.

Members would be appointed by legislative leadership and the governor, and would be authorized to examine all aspects of state government.

"There's just too much politics defending the current system," Tafanelli said in a statement. "Overhauling the state bureaucracy is just like realigning military bases after the Cold War — everybody knows it needs to be done, but nobody can agree where to start. As the federal BRAC process proved, this kind of independent commission is the answer."

Although the proposed Kansas commission is being compared to BRAC by its proponents, it would not be as independent — nor as insulated from politics — as the federal BRAC commission.

The Kansas Government Streamlining Commission would make recommendations to the new governor after the office changes hands in early 2011. Any changes would be implemented by a gubernatorial executive order.

The federal BRAC commission was set up so that its recommended base closings would automatically become law, unless both houses of Congress enacted resolutions within 45 days rejecting the entire list.

Congress didn't do that and the commission's final recommendations passed into law in late 2005.

The concept of a commission to study facilities closure is not unique within the state.

In January, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued an order creating the Kansas Facilities Closure and Realignment Commission.

Its charge was to "study and evaluate the closure and/or realignment of state facilities, and alternative uses of such facilities, including but not limited to: Kansas School for the Deaf, Kansas School for the Blind, Beloit Juvenile Correctional Facility, state developmental disability hospitals and Rainbow Mental Health Facility."

The panel presented its report to Gov. Mark Parkinson on Nov. 23.

Among its recommendations are merging the schools for the deaf and the blind, and closing the Kansas Neurological Institute and the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Disabled.