Sometimes in a news story the subtle assumptions are as important as the headlines. In many recent stories, the unspoken media message is that North Carolina Republicans are trying to politicize state activities that somehow are supposed to be unblemished by facts about performance and by what the voters want. The real story is that North Carolina bureaucrats are going to have to start facing reality: They need to do better, and they need to heed the voice of the people.
Take the story of Dr. Rebecca King. She was fired as head of the oral health department at the state Department of Health and Human Services. What’s really interesting are the narrative's underlying assumptions, and King’s attitude.
She thinks she got pink-slipped because she dragged her feet in identifying dental hygienists under her aegis who took vacation time to lobby legislators about possible budget cuts. Also, an Aug. 19 meeting between King and DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos by all accounts did not go well.
In an email to colleagues, King complained the department’s chief repeatedly interrupted her.
Earth to Rebecca King: 1. In the real world, when you meet with your boss, your boss has the floor any time she wants it. 2. When your staff publicly dissents from your bosses’ announced policy, you are in trouble to start with.
Too often bureaucrats are not held accountable. But they should be. Remember, their ultimate bosses are the voters of North Carolina. You can call it politics; you can also call it a democratic republic in which the will of the people is expressed at the ballot box. The people voted for a new government, which is trying to implement the goals it set forward in the campaign.
Unfortunately, one basic assumption of a certain liberal point of view is that government employees should be immune to any of the pressures and incentives that motivate us. The story goes on to reveal: “King’s firing also comes as state workers are increasingly worried about their job security.”
Really? Consider people who don’t work for government: Think many of us are a tad bit anxious about our job security?
I’m sure we all would like to feel a bit more secure. But most of us, if we are honest, admit that that those pressures keep us on our toes, and give us motivation to produce more.
Perhaps the real agenda is to protect bureaucrats from any consequences. The news story asserted that “personnel and salary decisions have overshadowed [DHHS’s] work administering Medicaid, overseeing mental health services and guarding public health.”
Well, maybe, just maybe, there need to be personnel changes at DHHS. Consider just Medicaid. Earlier this year, State Auditor Beth Woods released an audit revealing that the state Medicaid program had run up about $1.4 billion in administrative overruns over the previous three fiscal years and “a rat’s nest of problems from overspending, bloated administrative costs and violations of the law.”
That’s the same department that took a decade to develop a new Medicaid billing system that has been drawing complaints from all of the state.
Ultimately, state employees work for the people of North Carolina. Keep that in mind when you hear about supposed upheavals in state government. If anything, more upheaval is needed.