Is a cabinet-level military and veterans agency the right answer for North Carolina?

Image credit: U.S. Army via Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/

GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan—U.S. Army Spc. Richard Foust, an infantry team leader with 3rd Platoon, Company D, 2nd Brigade, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, pulls security on a rooftop in the predawn hours of Aug. 29, 2012 , in Janabad, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alex Kirk Amen, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan—U.S. Army Spc. Richard Foust, an infantry team leader with 3rd Platoon, Company D, 2nd Brigade, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, pulls security on a rooftop in the predawn hours of Aug. 29, 2012 , in Janabad, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alex Kirk Amen, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

A cost-benefit analysis.

 

RALEIGH (May 8, 2015) – Today we remember the victory of the Allied Powers over the Axis in Europe. On May 8, 1945, almost six years of war on the continent ended when Nazi Germany surrendered.

It may be a bit of a stretch to shift from V-E Day to Governor McCrory’s proposal to create the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs – but we’ll give it a shot anyway.

In his State of the State address in February, McCrory did not provide much detail about this new cabinet-level department. He said that it would be charged with:

  • “protecting and fighting [for] our military bases,
  • promoting the health and safety of our veterans and military families,
  • helping our veterans get jobs, and
  • working with the unique needs of base communities.”

From what we have been able to gather, this is more of a consolidation of existing agencies and programs under one roof than a creation of something new. McCrory said that they are currently “scattered across many areas of state government with no accountability.”

While it sounds a little strange for a sitting governor to claim that agencies and programs that report to him have “no accountability,” if a lack of accountability is a problem then at least he is proposing a solution. (Indeed, sources inside and outside the administration have told us that Ilario Pantano, head of the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs and a hard-charging retired Marine Corps officer, is determined and well-intentioned but could use some supervision.)

But is a new cabinet agency the best solution?

Some have argued that the costs of creating a new bureaucracy outweigh the benefits of consolidation; they advocate consolidation within an existing state agency (the Department of Public Safety). It is true that creating a new department will cost more, even if the programs consolidated are the same. How much more is unknown.

With North Carolina’s large compliment of military bases and large population of active-duty servicemen and women and veterans, it makes sense to put a focus on military and veterans. And it seems clear that the shotgun approach we are using now can be improved. Kudos to McCrory for bringing up the issues, whatever the solution turns out to be.

For now we will wait and see what new information we learn through the budget process. In our minds, two things work in the administration’s favor on this issue:

  • The first is that McCrory has shown little propensity for empire-building. While there are certainly those within the executive branch that would like nothing more than to grow their domains (and their budgets), others such as Art Pope have been able to hold these at bay. (We note that Budget Director Lee Roberts seems inclined to continue this trend, but only time will tell.)
  • The second also involves McCrory’s track record – this time on military and veterans affairs issues. In his same State of the State speech, McCrory described his veterans initiatives, such as “converting military training into college credit or professional licenses, giving credit for military experience when veterans serve as educators, creating driver’s licenses that identify veterans, and working to support a new Veterans Life Center in Butner.” The launch of these worthy initiatives shows that he is serious about taking the time to learn what matters to those who are or have served our nation, and serious about acting on those needs.

Being serious about a problem can also dovetail oh-so-nicely with every politician’s desire to own a “signature issue” that will be top-of-mind for voters. Almost invariably, “signature issues” end up costing the taxpayers vast amounts of money – there’s usually an expensive, new “state-of-the-art facility” involved – and government workers do jobs that can be done better and cheaper by the private sector.

Both active servicemen and veterans deserve the thanks and help they are getting, and providing more of it more effectively and efficiently is our duty to them.

We owe much to them for preserving our freedom and our way of life. That was as true in May 1945 as it is in May 2015.