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Politics & Government

Senate Hearing Yields Little New Information On Agency Mergers

Matt Rourke
Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol building Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.

The Wolf administration is gearing up to launch one of the most ambitious parts of its proposed 2017-18 budget—consolidating four of the state’s biggest health agencies.

But few concrete details have been released about merging the departments of Human Services, Drugs and Alcohol, Health, and Aging. And lawmakers are expressing concerns that the plan won’t be fully ready by budget day in three months.

At a hearing on the consolidation, the heads of the affected departments had little new information. Most of the specifics, as well as details about where a projected $90 million in savings will come from, are still under wraps.

When asked when a comprehensive plan for the changes might be available, Acting Secretary of the Department of Drugs and Alcohol, Jennifer Smith, said only that proposals “are being circulated right now for review at a high level.”

She added that she thinks they’re “getting very close” to being complete, but she has no official timeline.

Lawmakers, like Republican Sen. Lisa Baker, of Luzerne County, said that’s concerning.

“We have 93 days until July 1,” Baker said. “I have to say, the people I’ve talked to are concerned about the lack of an open, public process with stakeholders.”

The department secretaries did throw out a few soft deadlines.

Draft legislation for the plan is apparently coming sometime next month and the structure of the new agency is slated to be in place by July.

They stressed that fully consolidating the four large departments will take several years

Wolf hasn’t indicated who he’d choose as head of the new combined agency.