The director of South Carolina’s environmental and public health agency says she is finished with restructuring. Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Templeton made the comments three days after she announced 45 employees would be let go, but 68 new ones would be hired.
“We will spend the next year to eighteen months measuring where our services are most needed,” Templeton told South Carolina Radio Network, “But I don’t see that changing the actual structure of the agency. I think this puts us in a position to be able to manage those changes as they occur over the next decade.”
Templeton says the plan she announced in a letter to employees Friday would devote more resources towards field-level employees and less towards those in middle management. She said the elimination of salary space gives the agency the ability to hire 68 new lower-tier workers, but still save $2 million in salaries.
“When I got here, it was very management-heavy,” Templeton said. “So what I did was cut those large, fat salaries. And it is enabling us to take that money and reinvest it in the ‘front-line’ services of the agency.”
Many of DHEC’s 3,000-plus employees had expected significant changes at the agency ever since Templeton took over in March. Gov. Nikki Haley’s appointed DHEC Board of Directors selected Templeton for the job soon after Templeton made major structural changes at the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation in 2011.
One of the biggest changes that Templeton announced Friday would shrink DHEC’s current 8 regions into just 4— the Upstate, Midlands, Pee Dee, and Lowcountry. Templeton said she feels the regions currently behave like eight separate “corporations” and hurt the agency’s overall efficiency.
The letter says the agency would also centralize many of its administrative functions, including human resources, IT, and procurement, among others. The plan also merges the Environmental Health and Environmental Services divisions into a new Environmental Health Services office. The inspectors in the two divisions will now be cross-trained.
Templeton has received both praise and criticism during her 10 months at the helm of one of the state’s largest agencies. Some legislators were upset after several high-ranking DHEC officials were dismissed or resigned within weeks of her taking over the agency. She was also criticized for bringing in several well-paid consultants to help reform DHEC.
However, both business and environmental groups have expressed support for Templeton’s efforts to cut into a major pollution permit backlog that had piled up at DHEC during the recent recession.