Rep. Mike Yantachka

Our new president’s use of executive orders to try to fulfill some of his campaign promises, particularly regarding immigration, quickly ran into trouble. Executive orders are a way to bypass Congress to establish rules and policies by edict. The president can usually make the order stick if Congress does not have a veto-proof majority, as was the case for President Obama. But if the order is made late in the president’s term, a new administration can more easily reverse the order than it can for those made years before. This is why President Trump has been able to reverse several of President Obama’s orders issued within the last year.

In Vermont the governor can also issue executive orders. An order will take effect unless the Legislature disapproves it within 90 days of issuance. Disapproval by either body of the Legislature, either the House or the Senate, will invalidate an executive order. Governor Scott issued three executive orders in January to expedite a reorganization of the executive branch of government. One would move the Department of Labor (DoL) into the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD). A second order would merge the Department of Liquor Control and the Lottery Commission. A third order would create a new Agency of Digital Services that would have responsibility for all IT services in the executive branch.

The Senate took action to disapprove the first order several weeks ago based on the different missions of the two organizations and the possibility of conflicts of interest that might arise if the order took effect. The ACCD is a business-oriented agency that promotes commerce and business interests. It focuses on broad economic development issues. The DoL, on the other hand, uses a case-management system focusing on individuals and provides job search and job training opportunities for employees, administers Vermont OSHA rules, and advocates employee claims against unfair labor practices. The latter two responsibilities can be in conflict with the mission of ACCD since the final appeal of cases would transfer from the commissioner of DoL to the secretary of ACCD.

The second executive order merging liquor and lottery was considered by the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs. The committee was unable to adequately assess the consequences of such a merger because the Scott administration failed to demonstrate how the merger would result in significant savings or improvement in customer service. The committee found the order to be vague and broad and had questions about how it would affect jobs and revenue. Because the committee was unable to get adequate testimony from the administration, it felt required to reject the order and instead has introduced a bill, H.525, which would establish a working group to fully explore the advantages of merging these departments. The resolution passed after considerable debate and over the objections of the governor, and the order will not take effect.

Finally, the third order creating the Agency of Digital Services (ADS) was assigned to the House Energy and Technology Committee. During our consideration of the order, we were able to work collaboratively with the administration as both entities reviewed past successes and failures in the creation and administration of the state’s IT resources and services. Since most of the IT is currently distributed throughout the various agencies of government, an inventory is being taken of all of the state’s technology programs, personnel and equipment. To avoid disruption of the current work environment and maintain continuity of service, the personnel will report to ADS while remaining embedded within the agencies they support. Our committee has asked the administration to provide a timeline of the fiscal impact—when and how savings will occur—and to be kept updated regularly on progress throughout the year. The members of our committee were unanimously satisfied that the administration is on the right track with this plan and believe that it will lead to improved cross-agency collaboration and more efficient, effective and successful administration of the state’s IT resources. By not taking action, we allowed this executive order to go into effect as of April 17, 2017.