Who’s running your state government?

DOVER — Let’s face it — civilian knowledge of and participation in government could be better.

Many people do not even know who the governor is, let alone the secretary of education or the secretary of transportation.

But, while those cabinet secretaries are ignored by many and mocked as bureaucrats by some, they play a vital role in the day-to-day functions of government.

The executive branch, which is overseen by Gov. John Carney, collectively consists of about 31,600 positions, nearly half of which are for school district employees.

Gov. Carney’s cabinet is comprised of 16 members, including a doctor, a teacher, an ex-police officer and a couple of lawyers. Together, they have several centuries’ experience in government including, for a few, time served in that same role under another governor.

Those individuals are all appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. While a confirmation is generally a formality, there are exceptions. Notably, David Small continued to serve as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in a holdover role for the first few months of the Carney administration after Republicans blocked Shawn Garvin’s nomination. Mr. Garvin was eventually confirmed.

Since Gov. Carney’s tenure began in January 2017, DNREC, the National Guard, the Department of Correction and the Department of Labor have each had multiple leaders. All other agencies have only had one.

Gov. Carney’s cabinet includes seven people who served in the cabinet of one of his predecessors. Four of those seven — Secretary of State Jeff Bullock, Secretary of Transportation Jennifer Cohan, Housing Director Anas Ben Addi and Chief Information Officer James Collins — have continued in the same role they assumed under Gov. Jack Markell, who was in office from 2009 to 2017.

During his eight years, 30 Delawareans served in Gov. Markell’s cabinet. His predecessor, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, had 28 people in her cabinet in her eight years, although there were 18 agencies at the time.

Not every chief of an executive branch agency belongs to the cabinet — the Department of Elections, for instance, is not a cabinet-level agency.

The current structure of Delaware’s executive branch can be traced to 1970, when, on the urging of Gov. Russ Peterson, lawmakers replaced more than 100 boards and commissions with 10 departments.

According to Celia Cohen’s book “Only in Delaware,” a history of Delaware politics, the initial 10 agencies were the Department of Administrative Services, Department of Agriculture, Department of Community Affairs and Economic Development, Department of Finance, Department of Health and Social Services, Department of Highways and Transportation, Department of Labor, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Department of Public Safety and Department of State.

Most of those survive under the same name today, nearly half a century later.

What do they do?
As most fourth graders could tell you, government is divided into three branches: legislative, judicial and executive.

The executive branch is by far the largest, consisting of most functions of government. Although the legislative branch makes the laws and dispenses funding, the executive branch and its myriad agencies is the one responsible for core needs such as overseeing schools, paving roads, collecting taxes and ensuring public safety.

Cabinet secretaries can affect policy to a degree, promulgating regulations that deal with some functions of their agencies. They cannot raise taxes, however, and at times lawsuits have challenged whether a department overstepped its bounds and crossed into territory reserved for legislators.

Agencies generally receive money through the operating and capital budgets, though most entities receive no more than a few million dollars, if that, for capital projects. (Only the Office of Management and Budget, DNREC, the Delaware State Housing Authority and the departments of Education, Transportation and Correction were allocated more than $10 million for the fiscal year starting July 1.)

Money earmarked for departments is typically broken into two categories: general and special funds. General funds are “all moneys derived from taxes, fees, permits, licenses, fines, forfeitures or from any other sources or of other receipts of any kind or from any other source including the sale or disposition of surplus or other property of the State and of every agency thereof including receipts heretofore authorized as funds for specific use of any agency by the authority of any law of this State, but not including funds specified by the Constitution of the State to the extent thereof only and not including funds derived from the sale of bonds for the specific purposes named therein, and not including funds or receipts or grants made for a particular purpose pursuant to an act of Congress of the United States, and not including any endowment fund or gift made for particular purposes and not including any sinking fund authorized by the laws of this State.”

Quite a mouthful, huh?

Put simply, the General Fund is filled mostly by money generated from taxes, gambling and abandoned property. Personal income tax, the franchise tax and incorporation fees alone account for more than half of the state’s revenue, being projected in June to bring in about $2.81 billion in the current fiscal year.

Special funds can be further subdivided into appropriated and nonappropriated categories. Appropriated special funds are those that agencies must have legislative approval to use, such as park fees. Nonappropriated funds, which include federal Medicaid dollars and Delaware Technical Community College tuition, are not limited by lawmakers.

Positions are funded through either general, appropriated special and nonappropriated special funds. They can be covered by different sources — hence the 79.3 General Fund positions in the Department of Agriculture, for instance.

DelDOT is an exception to the above rules, with nearly all of the agency’s operating expenses being covered by the Transportation Trust Fund. Although the TTF was originally intended for road and bridge construction and repairs when it was created in 1987, decision-makers moved DelDOT’s budget into the fund within a few years of its establishment.

As a result, all but $5 million of DelDOT’s expenses are included in the TTF, which is considered appropriated special funding. Unique to the agency, many of its positions are funded through the capital bond bill.

While Delaware’s budget has grown precipitously over the past decade, from $3.09 billion in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010, to its current total of $4.45 billion, its workforce has not.

The budget for fiscal year 2010 contained funding for 31,347.6 positions. In comparison, the 2020 budget has 32,995.5 positions, an increase of around 5.3 percent — or growth that’s about eight times less than General Fund spending in that span.

There’s a simple explanation for that, and it dates back to the economic crash at the end of the first decade of the 2000s. During the Great Recession, the state deliberately avoided filling some positions to keep costs down.

The leaders of those 16 cabinet agencies all make six figures, placing them among the 1,900 or so state employees who broke $100,000 in 2018.

While the agency leaders receive the same pay raises doled out to regular state workers ($1,000 in the current fiscal year), state law requires their salaries to be reviewed regularly.

Every four years, the Delaware Compensation Commission meets to discuss pay raises for elected officials, judges and cabinet secretaries, although it has either not recommended any increases or had its suggestions rejected by the General Assembly the last three times it has convened.

The 16 department heads are currently broken into four tiers, with salaries ranging from $123,333 to $165,055. For comparative purposes, the governor makes $171,000 this year.

In the top tier are the overseers of the Department of Education and Department of Technology and Information, while the leaders of the Delaware National Guard, Delaware State Housing Authority and Department of Labor bring up the rear.

The commission most recently met in 2017. Among its recommendations that year were reducing the tiers to three and phasing in increases to bring the secretary of health and social services to the same salary as the secretary of education and the chief information officer and to make the earnings of the secretaries of transportation and state commensurate with those of the director of management and budget and secretaries of finance and correction.

“The 2017 Commission, as was the case with the previous Commissions, believes strongly that the quality of State government depends largely on its ability to attract and retain highly talented individuals to lead its various programs and activities,” its report states.

“While no member of the 2017 Commission argued that government salaries should parallel those in the private sector, the 2017 Commission concluded that reasonable compensation, set by an impartial body such as the Commission, would play an important role in attracting and retaining top talent.”

Salaries for agency heads have increased by about 8 or 9 percent, depending on the department, over the past 10 years.

With that out of the way, here’s a look at those agencies and the people that keep them running. The below information on positions and funding earmarked for each department comes from the spending bills for the current fiscal year.

Delaware National Guard
Positions allocated: 28 general, 89 special
Budget: $5 million general
Head: Adjutant General Michael Berry

The Delaware National Guard is currently led by Brig. Gen. Berry, who has held the post since March. He is responsible for ensuring all members of the guard, including more than 1,500 soldiers and 1,100 airmen, are ready for whatever comes.

Mr. Berry has 31 years of military experience. He took over after Carol Timmons, the first female head of the Delaware National Guard, retired. Her predecessor, Francis Vavala, held the job for 18 years.

While the modern Delaware National Guard can trace its inception to a 1903 federal law, Delaware has contributed men to various conflicts for centuries.

The adjutant general is being paid $126,156 this fiscal year.

Delaware State Housing Authority
Positions allocated: 7 special
Budget: $7 million general, $15 million special
Head: Anas Ben Addi

The current director of the housing authority has held the post since 2009, being appointed by Gov. Markell and then reappointed by Gov. Carney eight years later. DSHA is one of the smallest and lesser-known cabinet agencies, and its budget reflects that.

Created in 1968, DSHA became its own entity in 1998. It aims to ensure Delawareans have access to housing and offers programs to help low-income individuals find a place to live. Its budget has shrunk from 10 years ago and now contains seven positions rather than 29.

The director’s salary for the current fiscal year is $123,333.

Department of Agriculture
Positions allocated: 79.3 general, 59.7 special
Budget: $8 million general, $8 million special
Head: Michael Scuse

Secretary of Agriculture Scuse is currently on his second go-around in the role. After holding the position from 2001 to 2008, he went to work for the federal Department of Agriculture. Mr. Scuse spent eight years there, including a few days as acting secretary of agriculture as the Obama administration came to an end.

The agency he oversees is tasked with promoting one of the state’s main industries. It consists of 13 sections, although its workforce is smaller than in 2010.

The secretary of agriculture is one of the lowest-paid department heads, pulling in “only” $123,333.

Department of Education
Positions allocated: 15,281.6 general (all but 208 are for school districts and charter schools), 55.5 special
Budget: $1.57 billion general, $5 million special
Head: Susan Bunting

Easily one of the state’s most controversial agencies, the Department of Education is also the largest. Its workforce accounts for about 46 percent of all budgeted positions, and its budget makes up just over one-third of General Fund spending.

The department exists to coordinate educational services across the state’s 19 school districts and many charter schools. In short, it aims to ensure students in Laurel are learning similar things as pupils in Wilmington.

Under Gov. Markell, some charged the department with becoming too big and bloated, arguing the focus on bureaucracy took away from what happens in the classroom. Gov. Carney’s education plan sought to change the agency into a more support-centered entity, rather than one that dictates policy.

Three people held the role of secretary of education during Gov. Markell’s eight years. The current secretary, Dr. Bunting, spent 40 years at the Indian River School District, including 10 and a half years as superintendent.

In 2010, the Department of Education had a General Fund allocation of about $1.12 billion, with 13,430.5 positions, 13,217 of which were for schools.

The head of the agency is paid $165,055 this year.

Department of Correction
Positions allocated: 2,635 general, 10 special
Budget: $343 million general, $4 million special
Head: Claire DeMatteis

The Department of Correction has been under fire for virtually Gov. Carney’s entire tenure. The department, which was responsible for about 19,000 offenders as of June 30, operates four prisons. Only about a quarter of those 19,000 were in jail itself — the rest were in programs for home confinement, work release, probation, parole and pre-trial supervision.

Ms. DeMatteis recently took over the agency after her predecessor, corrections lifer Perry Phelps, retired in July following a rocky tenure that included the death of a correctional officer in a February 2017 prison riot and, more recently, allegations a medical contractor falsified records.

Ms. DeMatteis was hired as a special assistant in charge of implementing reforms at the agency after the 2017 riot. She spent a year with the Department of Correction, and when she departed in July 2018, officials said 40 of 41 key recommendations from an independent review had been implemented.

Gov. Carney tapped Ms. DeMatteis, who worked as legal counsel for then Sen. Joe Biden in the 1990s and 2000s, to take over for Mr. Phelps after news of the medical contractor’s alleged wrongdoing broke.

As commissioner of correction, she’ll make $152,088 this fiscal year.

Department of Finance
Positions allocated: 129.3 general, 158.7 special
Budget: $14 million general, $120 million special
Head: Rick Geisenberger

The agency responsible for collecting taxes and other income consists of the Division of Revenue, Office of Unclaimed Property, Division of Accounting, State Lottery Office and Office of the Secretary.

It processes more than 1 million tax returns every year, while the Lottery Office oversees not just the state lottery but all gambling, including slots and sports betting.

Finance Secretary Geisenberger joined the department after 16 years as head of the Division of Corporations, one of the state’s most important government bodies.

As secretary of finance, he is paid $152,088 this year.

The Department of Finance’s General Fund budget is down from 2010, although special funding authority has doubled. While about 55 percent of its positions are covered by special funds now, just 22 percent were 10 years ago.

Department of Health and Social Services
Positions allocated: 3,042.6 general, 885.5 special
Budget: $1.23 billion general, $145 million special
Head: Kara Odom Walker

The secretary of DHSS is responsible for overseeing a complex agency that dwarfs all other state entities outside of the Department of Education. The department consists of 11 divisions, plus an administrative unit and several other commissions or programs. In all, it handles a wide array of services, from assisting the blind to administering Medicare and Medicaid to supervising child support payments.

In June, some lawmakers filed a bill to split DHSS up into two cabinet-level agencies. After pushback from the governor and some advocates, they backed off it, instead creating a task force to study whether the department should be broken up.

One of the most visible cabinet agencies, DHSS is currently led by a family physician. Dr. Walker came to the department and the state from Washington D.C., where she worked at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, a nonprofit that researches health issues and advises Congress.

DHSS’ total budget has grown from about $915 million since 2010, even though its workforce is down by more than 600 positions.

Dr. Walker’s salary for the current year is $152,088.

Department of Human Resources
Positions allocated: 165 general, 87 special
Budget: $23 million general, $5 million special
Head: Saundra Ross Johnson

Although it’s technically the newest cabinet agency, the Department of Human Resources is not a new concept. In 2017, 12 years after the State Personnel Office, Department of Administrative Services and Budget Office merged, legislators created a new HR office on the urging of Gov. Carney.

Established in response to allegations of racism in state government, its sections include a unit dedicated to increasing diversity in state government and another that focuses on women’s issues.

Ms. Johnson served as director of the Delaware State Housing Authority from 2000 to 2009. As head of HR, she’s making $132,011 this year.

Department of Labor
Positions allocated: 44.8 general, 427.2 special
Budget: $11 million general, $16 million special
Head: Cerron Cade

Six subunits make up the Department of Labor, which is responsible for helping people find work, enforcing labor law, overseeing employment benefits and related areas.

Mr. Cade was confirmed in January 2018 after Patrice Gilliam-Johnson, who Gov. Markell named secretary in 2016, spent 2017 in limbo.

Unlike the other holdovers from the Markell administration, Ms. Gilliam-Johnson did not receive a confirmation hearing yet was still considered secretary rather than acting secretary. Rumor at the time had it her nomination was being blocked by at least one Senate Democrat, who wanted an ally installed in the post instead.

Mr. Cade was the acting director of the Delaware Economic Development Office prior to its dissolution in June 2017. As secretary of labor, his salary is $123,333, most of which comes from special funds.

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
Positions allocated: 306.2 general, 428.8 special
Budget: $38 million general, $104 million special
Head: Shawn Garvin

As its name suggests, DNREC exists to protect the environment. It’s divided into 10 divisions that are responsible for state parks, air quality, wildlife and more.

Mr. Garvin, a former aide to several Democratic politicians in Delaware, worked as the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 3 under President Barack Obama. He was confirmed as DNREC secretary only after the nomination sat in limbo for nearly two months.

With the Senate knotted at 10-10 in January 2017, Republicans were able to block Mr. Garvin, who they considered anti-business, although Democrats were eventually able to force the nomination through after winning a special election.

Mr. Garvin is being paid $132,011 this year.

Department of Safety and Homeland Security
Positions allocated: 1,071.9 general, 185.1 special
Budget: $144 million general, $24 million special
Head: Robert Coupe

Mr. Coupe came to the department with substantial law enforcement experience: 28 years with the Delaware State Police, including three and a half as superintendent, and four years as commissioner of correction. The Department of Safety and Homeland Security contains most state law enforcement, such as Delaware State Police, Capitol Police and Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement.

The agency has added 146 positions over the past decade. Its name was changed from the Department of Public Safety in 2003 at the request of Gov. Minner.

The secretary of the department makes $137,240.

Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families
Positions allocated: 1,213.5 general, 94.5 special
Budget: $183 million general, $17 million special
Head: Josette Manning

The agency often known as the Kids Department was founded in 1983 after part of DHSS was spun off. Currently, the department handles all sorts of issues involving minors, such as neglect, mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness. According to the agency, its staff serves more than 8,000 children a day.

The department is made up of the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services, Division of Family Services, Division of Management Support Services and Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services. It operates several detention centers for youth and is responsible for the state’s foster care and adoption programs.

Ms. Manning spent 16 years as a prosecutor with the Delaware Department of Justice before taking the secretary’s office in 2017. The job pays $137,240 this year.

Three individuals held the post under Gov. Markell, with the first two being appointed to judgeships by him.

Department of State
Positions allocated: 255 general, 371 special
Budget: $27 million general, $68 million special
Head: Jeffrey Bullock

Mr. Bullock is the second longest serving secretary of state in Delaware history, according to the department. In fact, only the first secretary of state, James Booth, held the office longer, overseeing the department from 1778 to 1799.

Sometimes jokingly referred to as the shadow governor, Mr. Bullock is perhaps the most powerful Delawarean few have heard of. As secretary of state, he oversees around 20 divisions, ranging from libraries to historical and cultural affairs to professional regulation.

While most cabinet secretaries are very qualified, Mr. Bullock might take the cake in that regard. Appointed by Gov. Markell in 2009, he has continued in that role under Gov. Carney.

Like his current boss, he worked for Gov. Tom Carper in the 1990s and for New Castle County, although their tenures with the county did not overlap.

The Department of State is one of Delaware’s most important agencies for one reason: corporations. Because of its experienced Court of Chancery and friendly laws, the state is the legal home of more than 1 million corporations, including more than 60 percent of Fortune 500 businesses. And that means big bucks flow to the state’s coffers.

Thus, the secretary of state must not only be a capable administrator with a wide knowledge of government, he or she must ensure the golden goose continues to lay eggs — in other words, keep the corporate franchise safe and steady.

Mr. Bullock’s current salary is $132,011.

Department of Technology and Information
Positions allocated: 228.6 general, 75.4 special
Budget: $43 million general, $36 millionspecial
Head: James Collins

DTI is state government’s IT service, responsible for overseeing cybersecurity, expanding high-speed Internet access and helping state workers with computer problems. Unlike other departments, it is, as the state’s website notes, “primarily an internal service organization, with only a few of its services directly touching the citizens or customers of the state.”

Mr. Collins, who holds the lofty-sounding title of chief information officer, assumed the position in October 2014. He previously worked for Gov. Markell and the Department of State.

Because of the technical knowledge required, the head of DTI is in the top tier in terms of salary, collecting $165,055 this year.

Department of Transportation
Positions allocated: 1,488 trust fund operations, 296 trust fund capital
Budget: $5 million general, $365 million trust fund
Head: Jennifer Cohan

Unlike other agencies, DelDOT is funded by the Transportation Trust Fund, which consists of revenue from the gas tax, tolls, vehicle documents and similar fees. It’s one of the most visible state departments — after all, who hasn’t been impacted by road construction somewhere in the First State?

Included in DelDOT’s hierarchy are the Delaware Transit Corporation and Division of Motor Vehicles.

Ms. Cohan, who has held her current role since February 2015 after eight years as DMV director, is proof governors don’t only pick members of their own party: She’s a registered Republican.

She was the third transportation secretary to hold the role under Gov. Markell.

In the current fiscal year, DelDOT is authorized to spend about $717 million on capital projects, with about $272 million of that coming from the federal government. The department controls about 90 percent of the state’s roads — equivalent to around 14,000 lane miles.

The current budget allocates $142,572 for the secretary of transportation’s salary.

Office of Management and Budget
Positions allocated: 190.5 general, 129.5 special
Budget: $216 million general (includes$62 million in one-time spending allocated through a supplemental budget bill), $76 million special
Head: Michael Jackson

In a nutshell, OMB is responsible for putting the budget together. Although the state had a budget division before the 2005 consolidation, the elimination of the State Personnel Office and Department of Administrative Services created OMB in its modern form.

OMB budget analysts work with the state’s other agencies and the governor throughout the fall and winter to draw up a draft budget the legislature uses as the base for the spending plan it eventually approves. The office consists of divisions for administrative functions, budget development, facilities management, pensions and government support services.

Its legislative counterpart is the Controller General’s Office.

A budget director is one of the most important hires a new governor makes. Gov. Markell, who spent 10 years as state treasurer, went with his deputy treasurer when he took office, while Gov. Carney tapped Mr. Jackson, who was the deputy controller general at the end of the Markell administration.

As the man holding the reins at OMB, Mr. Jackson coordinates more with legislators than any other member of the cabinet. It’s quite possible that no one in the state knows more about Delaware’s complex budgeting processes than Mr. Jackson, who must be able to explain to the General Assembly where every dollar is going and why.

No wonder the agency’s director is one of the higher-paid secretaries, with a salary this year of $152,088.

Facebook Comment