North Carolina State Government - The Executive Branch

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In over two hundred-thirty years since the formation of the state of North Carolina, many changes have occurred in that structure. State and local governments in North Carolina have grown from minimal organizations comprising a handful of employees statewide in 1776 to the current multi-billion dollar enterprise that employs thousands of public servants all over the state and provides services for millions of North Carolina’s citizens each year. The increasing number of services and programs that state and local governments provide to citizens and businesses throughout the state has brought with it management challenges.

In 1970, the state’s executive branch included over 200 independent agencies. Recognizing the need to streamline and simplify the executive branch’s organization, the General Assembly undertook a major reorganization of state government. The legislators began the reorganization by defining the activities that most appropriately should be entrusted to executive branch agencies.

In an October 27, 1967, speech, Governor Daniel Killian Moore urged the North Carolina State Bar to take the lead in sponsoring a study to determine the need for revising or rewriting the Constitution of North Carolina. The Council of the North Carolina State Bar and the North Carolina Association joined in appointing a steering committee that selected twenty-five people for a North Carolina State Constitution Commission.

The commission’s report, submitted on December 16, 1968, contained a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would reduce the number of executive branch departments to no more than twenty-five (25) and authorize the governor to reorganize the executive branch subject to approval by the General Assembly.

The 1969 General Assembly submitted the proposed Constitutional Amendment to a vote of the people and also authorized the Governor to begin a study of consolidation of state agencies and to prepare a recommendation for the General Assembly. Governor Robert W. Scott established the State Government Reorganization Study Commission in October of 1969. Later, in May of 1970, the Governor appointed a fifty-member citizen Committee on State Government Organization to review the study and make specific recommendations for implementation of the reorganization plan.

Voters approved the Constitutional proposal requiring the reduction of the number of administrative departments in the general election on November 3, 1970. The Amendment called for the executive branch to be reduced to no more than twenty-five (25) departments by the end of 1975. The Committee on State Government Reorganization submitted its recommendations to the Governor on February 4, 1971.

The committee recommended implementation of the amendment in two phases. Phase I would group agencies together in a limited number of functional departments. The General Assembly approved the implementation of Phase I in 1971. Phase II began in 1971 and continued into 1973 as agencies began to evaluate agency and department organizations. The results of this analysis were presented to the 1973 General Assembly in the form of legislation that would revise existing Statutes to more closely conform to the executive branch’s new organizational structure. The legislators began working to make the changes in state law needed to support the reorganization.

With strong support from Governor Robert W. Scott, the General Assembly ratified the Executive Organization Act of 1971 on July 14, 1971. The Act divided the executive branch into rough groupings. The first group was composed of nineteen (19) principal offices and departments headed by elected officials. Nine other departments organized along functional lines and headed by appointed administrators formed the second grouping of agencies.

The Act implemented Phase I of the reorganization through types of transfers. A Type I transfer meant transferring all or part of an agency — including its statutory authority, powers and duties — to a principal department. A Type II transfer meant transferring an existing agency intact to a principal department with the transferring agency retaining its statutory authority and functions, which would now be exercised under the direction and supervision of the principal department’s head. Governor Scott created all of the offices and departments called for by the Act prior to the mandated deadline of July 1, 1972.

Further alterations in the executive branch’s structure followed between 1972 and 1977. In 1973, the General Assembly passed the Executive Organization Act of 1973. The Act affected four of the newly-created departments — Cultural Resources, Human Resources, Military and Veterans Affairs, and Revenue. The 1973 law vested final administrative and managerial powers for the executive branch in the hands of the Governor and gave him powers to appoint a secretary for each of the departments named. The law also defined the powers of the secretaries, yet named specifically designated policy areas and executive powers already vested in various commissions that could not be countermanded by either the Governor or a departmental secretary.

The 1973 Act changed the name of the Department of Arts, Culture and History to the Department of Cultural Resources. Various boards, commissions, councils, and societies providing cultural programs for North Carolina citizens were brought under the umbrella of the Department of Cultural Resources. The Department of Human Resources and the Department of Revenue were restructured. The 1973 Act created a Board of Human Resources in the Department of Human Resources to serve as an advisory board to the secretary on any matter he or she might refer to it.

The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs was specifically charged with making sure the State’s National Guard troops were trained to federal standards. The Act also made the department responsible for ensuring military and civil preparedness and assisting veterans and their families and dependents. A new Veterans Affairs Commission was created to assist the secretary with veterans services programs.

The initial reorganization of the state’s executive branch was mostly completed by the end of 1975. The Governor, however, sought several additional reorganizational changes. The proposals primarily affected four departments — Commerce, Military and Veterans Affairs, Natural and Economic Resources, and Transportation.

The 1977 General Assembly enacted several laws implementing the new proposals. The old Department of Military and Veterans Affairs was replaced by a new Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. The Veterans Affairs Commission was transferred to the Department of Administration. The State Highway Patrol, formerly part of the Department of Transportation’s Division of Motor Vehicles, was transferred to the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. The 1977 Act created a Governor’s Crime Commission administered by Crime Control and Public Safety.

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The Energy Division and the Energy Policy Council were transferred from the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to the Department of Commerce, along with three agencies previously under the Department of Transportation — the State Ports Authority and two commissions on Navigation and Pilotage.

Other legislative changes further reorganized the Department of Commerce by transferring the Economic Development Division from the Department of Natural and Economic Development as well as by creating a Labor Force Development Council to coordinate the needs of industry with the programs offered in North Carolina’s educational institutions. The Economic Development Division transfer encountered some opposition because the existing structure had allowed new prospective industry to deal with only one department regarding environmental regulation and economic development.

Reorganization has become a predictable, ongoing feature of state government’s executive branch since 1971. Department names have changed, missions and mandates have been altered and some agencies, such as the Office of State Controller, have been given autonomous status. One new department — the Department of Community Colleges – has been created.

The most sweeping reorganization since 1977 occurred in 1989 and involved major changes to the Departments of Commerce, Human Resources, and Natural Resources and Community Development (NRCD). All three were restructured significantly. The Department of Natural Resources and Economic Development became the Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources with primary responsibilities in the areas of environmental and natural resources management and public health protection. The Department of Commerce was renamed the Department of Economic and Community Development. This department acquired the community development activities of the old NRCD and added them to the commercial and industrial activity of the old Department of Commerce. The Department of Human Resources lost its Division of Health Services and several sections from other divisions relating to environmental and health management.

The growth in programs at the Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources led to legislation approved in the 1996 General Assembly that formally reorganized the department yet again. As of June 1, 1997, all health functions and programs were consolidated in the newly-renamed Department of Health and Human Services, which also comprised the former Department of Human Resources. The Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources was renamed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

North Carolina’s newest executive branch agency is North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. George L. Sweat, the department’s first secretary, was sworn into office on July 20, 2000.

More changes arrived.. stay tuned... will be added sooner or later.

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