In an attempt to consolidate and eliminate bureaucracy, in 2003 a bill was proposed at the Legislature to merge the Department of Human Services and the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services (formerly the Department of Mental Retardation) into one department: the Department of Health and Human Services.
Some legislators were concerned by the merger – Representative Lerman of Augusta said this during one of the final floor votes: “I really think that it will be a distraction from the mission that we need to pursue very vigorously. That is to really do systems design, reduce cost, improve efficiency and improve the services that people receive…I fear there are certain populations served by these departments, which will be overshadowed and will not get the attention that it deserves. There are certain services currently being offered by the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services that will at best be second citizens within the bigger Department of Human Services.”
Representative Kane of Saco had a more optimistic view of the changes: “We should not underestimate the magnitude of the challenges before the committee in dealing with this proposal. We shouldn’t underestimate as well its potential for enhancing the lives of Maine’s most vulnerable citizens through a more coordinated, accountable and cost-effective system of health and human services. We have a unique opportunity of proposing and passing landmark legislation that is going to serve this state well for a long time.”
In the end, the law passed, and the current Department of Health and Human Services was born.