If the core mission of the Governor, the state’s chief executive officer, is to operationalize the functions of government and manage the bureaucracy, then government in Madison no longer works the way it was intended.
Over the last four years, executive branch agencies have racked up major backlogs and failed to provide basic care for veterans. Audits have shown a lack of transparency in grant programs. And yet the cost of government continues to rise. In their most recent budget request, state agencies are asking for nearly $8.2 billion more than the current budget.
State government can and must do better for the people it serves.
With a mission to shine light on Wisconsin government, earlier this year the Institute for Reforming Government released the “Agency 101” series. In these reports we highlighted the information that every concerned citizen should know about the state’s largest executive branch agencies. Below is a list of the top 10 failures in state government over the last four years:
1. Department of Workforce Development: During the pandemic, DWD was unprepared for the record number of unemployment claims, which created massive backlogs and delays in benefits being delivered. In the first week of Evers’ Safer at Home order in 2020, DWD’s unemployment line received 1.5 million attempted calls. Since then, policymakers have focused on upgrading DWD and making sure it is prepared for the next crisis event. Only time will tell if the changes are enough or if additional reforms are needed.
2. Department of Safety and Professional Services: Lingering effects of Governor Evers’ COVID-19 policies, a newly launched electronic filing system, and agency mismanagement created a licensure backlog. DSPS employees have not been able to catch up on the mounting backlog of filed forms – leaving some Wisconsinites waiting months, and some over a year, for their credentials.
3. Department of Public Instruction: Since 2017, DPI has seen its biennial budget increase by over $2 billion, from $14.2 billion to $16.3 billion. This is despite serving 18,500 fewer students and overseeing disastrous drops in math scores and college enrollment beyond pandemic averages.
4. Department of Children and Families: When the Department was created in the 2007-2009 budget, its budget was set at $1.1 billion. Today, its budget is almost $2.9 billion, a nearly threefold increase over the past 15 years. However, this has not equated to better services to Wisconsin children and families. As an example, since 2009 the number of children served through Wisconsin Shares (a child care subsidy program) has been cut in half. In 2009, an average of 59,730 children were enrolled monthly in the program while the most recent data shows that only 30,055 were enrolled in October of this year.
5. Department of Veterans Affairs: The Veterans Home at Union Grove has been under investigations during the past few years because of the awful conditions that have been brought to light by residents and their families. Based on reporting, residents have had to endure poor medical care, dehydration, and unexplained injuries. Earlier this year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Home had 62 operating violations in the last 5 years.
6. Public Service Commission: The Legislative Audit Bureau’s recent audit of the Broadband Grant Program found that the PSC:
- Did not verify that providers actually constructed the broadband infrastructure they were reimbursed for
- Did not document the amounts providers actually paid to construct broadband infrastructure
- Did not establish written program policies for ARPA and CARES Act funded grants
- Did not retain a record of scores given by staff and did not follow scoring criteria set within the application instructions
- In one round of awards, out of the 83 grants approved, the Commission approved 79 staff recommendations
7. Department of Financial Institutions: Funding for DFI comes from fees collected from financial institutions, securities regulation, and filing fees. As a result, the agency collects more funding than what is needed to operate and returns a large portion of what it collects back into the state general fund. In FY 2021, DFI generated $91,571,893 in revenue. That’s enough revenue to operate the department for four years.
8. Department of Corrections: Although DOC has over 4,637 correctional officer positions, there are 1,440 vacant positions as of August 2022. This is a vacancy rate of 31% or roughly ⅓ of uniformed positions. This is an average; some facilities have much higher rates. Waupun Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison, has the highest vacancy rate at 48.3%.
9. Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection: Beyond the economic challenges facing Wisconsin’s farmers, the state government has done little to alleviate unnecessary burdens. The regulatory environment in Wisconsin makes it harder for them to thrive and focus on farming.
Currently, farmers have to comply with regulations from two state agencies, DATCP and DNR. Like many areas of the Wisconsin economy, this industry would benefit from a more streamlined approach and a regulatory state that works alongside, rather than against the regulated community.
10. Department of Health Services: BadgerCare Plus enrollment totaled 774,027 in January of 2020. Due to federal legislation and regulations enacted during the pandemic that prohibit states from removing people from Medicaid – even if they could gain coverage elsewhere – 1,128,101 Wisconsinites were enrolled in BadgerCare Plus as of August 2022. This high number will remain until the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) formally ends the public health emergency.
This is just the start of what lawmakers and Governor Evers need to address in 2023. As the state budget debate gets underway in the new year, politicians would be wise to refocus state agencies back to their core functions to help get government back on track.