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ducting “a partisan inquiry” that represented “the hijacking of official government resources” for Republican political purposes. Three Republican witnesses Susan Hirschmann of the Leadership Forum as well as Frank Donatelli and George Terwilliger, both affiliated with Americans for a Better Country, appeared, but Ney said he did not wish to hear testimony from one side and not the other, so he quickly excused them. \(Earlier this week, Americans for a Better Country asked the Federal Election Commission for an advisory opinion on whether it can engage in its planned campaign activities this cycle, which include raising and distributing soft money for the purpose of funding voter registration The committee immediately convened a business meeting, which consisted of statements by various House Administration members and was characterized by an unusual level of acrimony for the panel. At one point, Larson attempted to give his opening statement and was informed by Ney that he was out of order. “This hearing is out of order,” Larson responded. Larson was demonstrating his grasp of the obvious. The no-show Democrats knew the odds are against them. Hirschmann, after all, is Tom DeLay’s former chief of staff, who recently moved into the corporate lobby. The Leadership Forum she directs is a Tom DeLay creation and just before the new campaign law took effect it raked in $1 million in seed money from the Republican National Committeewhich was quickly returned when it appeared the normally toothless FEC was going to bite this time. While the Dems knew the Republicans had a home-field advantage at the House Committee, they didn’t know the officials had been “hammered” into obedient soldiers. “Bob Ney is a decent guy who is usually fair and even-handed,” a disinterested lobbyist watching the hearing told the Observer. “This is DeLay working through Ney.” CUTTING THE COUNCILS State health officials are revealing exactly what they mean by “streamlining” government. They recently unveiled their finalized plan to overhaul the social services safety net. The transition plan implements last session’s disastrous House Bill 2292 that scrunches 12 existing health and human service agencies into five, priva tizes several core state functions, and dissolves at least 5,000 state jobs. The 115-page document reads like a Fortune 500 business plan. It describes the “integration, optimization, and transformation” of the state’s health and human services agencies, beginning in earnest in January. The transition plan also and the need for an “enterprise-wide communications infrastructure!’ State health officials wasted no time embarking on their communications strategy. When the transition plan was made public, Health and Human Services Commission head Albert Hawkins released a statement praising the restructuring as a major step forward for low-income Texans. “This new approach will result in a system that serves consumers better,” promised Hawkins. How accurate that prediction will be might depend on the definition of the word “better.” In supposedly making the safety net more efficient, the reorganization actually reduces services by eliminating state jobs and several government programs. The cutting has already begun. In September, HHSC officials abolished 39 of the state’s 109 advisory and interagency committees. These cuts, mandated in HB 2292, went unnoticed by most media outlets. The eliminated committees brought together state workers and policy experts from a wide range of agencies and advocacy groups to handle overlooked sections of the state’s social service web. While some of the groups were probably expendablethe Department of Health’s Animal Friendly Advisory Committee doesn’t exactly seem essentialmany others will be sorely missed. How wise can it be to cut the Hepatitis and HIV Interagency Coordinating Council or the Child Abuse Program Evaluation Committee? Mental health advocates are especially upset at the loss of the Community Resource Coordinating Groups for children and adults that brought together various government agencies with local organizations to care for the mentally ill. The cuts aren’t about saving money. Dispensing with nearly 40 percent of the advisory councils saved the state a whopping $62,000 this year. While the state will save continued on page 27 12/5/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13