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Easy on Paper

Another Illinois governor, another reorganization plan

Illinois Times

April 9, 1992

 As I note below, new Illinois governors often move agencies around the way they rearrange the furniture at the mansion, partly as a way to make the place feel theirs, partly to make themselves feel useful. It looks easy on paper, but such moves always cost more than they save, and create more than a little confusion among employees.

I here accuse Jim Edgar of seeking to save money in operating costs by consolidating  agencies. That was misleading. The real goal was administrative coherence. When he took office he inherited a bureaucratic house in which the clothes dresser had ended up in the kitchen because there wasn't room for it in the bedroom and someone had put the sofa in the garage so they wouldn't have to worry about spilling stuff on the carpet during football telecasts.


The news that Gov. Jim "James" Edgar is not going to reorganize major state agencies after all hit Springfield hard. Painters and printers who took out loans in anticipation of a burst of business were said to be outraged; Gary LaPaille and the Democrats won't have to pay a nickel for yard signs or leaflets the next time Edgar runs for anything in Sangamon County.

New governors often move agencies around the way they rearrange the furniture at the mansion, as a way to make the place feel theirs. Edgar however was more interested in cutting down on the housekeeping expenses by getting rid of stuff that no one seemed to use very much.

Thus the talk about merging this agency with that one. It's  a very Springfield sort of parlor game that everyone can play. I would merge the Illinois National Guard with the Illinois Commerce Commission, which is always being outgunned by the electric utilities. And I would combine the offices of the Commissioner of Banks and Trusts, the Department of Financial Institutions, the Department of Insurance, and the Commissioner of Savings and Residential Finance with the Department of Corrections, to cut out the middle men.

There are political as well as fiscal costs to be taken into account when merger-ing. Consolidating the State Board of Education with its Indiana counterpart would rid Illinois of the pestilence of the Professional Educator and thus have happy effects from a policy and a budget perspective, but you know the old saw: Those that can, do; those that can't teach; those that teach, vote.

This is why most state officials would rather stick with something that they know doesn't work than try something they're not sure will work. Edgar lowered the political risks of merger by picking on agencies smaller than he is, such as the Department of Energy and Natural Resources. One plan reportedly would have merged ENR with an enlarged Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

ENR is something of a mongrel dog. Its makeup demonstrates why Jim Thompson earned a reputation as a politician rather than as an administrator. The agency was assembled to shepherd the state (via various conservation and coal technology initiatives) through an energy-scarce future that never arrived. Grafted onto this soon-to-be-irrelevant energy operation were existing programs from other agencies that had something to do with research regarding natural resources: the Illinois State Museum, whose mission is ultimately pedagogical; the water, geological, and natural history surveys (based in Champaign) whose orientation is industrial; and the old Institute for Environmental Quality, one of the state's three original environmental protection agencies, which was rule-oriented.

Environmental regulation and resource planning are fundamentally more complex tasks than issuing drivers' licenses, which is how Edgar got his degree in public administration. Merging ENR with IEPA would have done nothing to improve the internal coherence of the former. It would however have undone the state's unique tripartite system of environmental regulation. Basically IEPA is empowered to enforce the rules that are written by the Illinois Pollution Control Board; the job of the old IEQ (and thus later ENR) was to analyze the likely impacts of those rules in terms of cost-effectiveness, etc.

There are as many opportunities for delays and disputes in such a set-up as lawyers can think up, and everyone complains about its inefficiency. What some of the Edgar people apparently misunderstood is that it is the inefficiency of the system that makes it valuable to the citizens. Investing the power to make rules in one agency and the power to enforce them in another keeps each from abusing its power, as the founding fathers knew when they made Congress and the President separate branches.

The Edgar plans confirmed why agency reorganization seldom works. Such schemes usually are hatched early in the terms of new governors, when the people in charge still think they can influence state government. That naiveté is born of ignorance, since they haven't been around long enough to figure out how the agencies work. For example, ENR's value lies in fact-finding and analysis—things that are essential to policy formation but irrelevant to enforcement.

There are in fact rearrangements that would make those processes more coherent, if not less expensive. Thompson's error in founding the agency was to group its disparate parts according to the way they did their work rather than the work they did. Surgery to correct these lingering birth defects would result in a coherence of ends rather than means. For example:

● Leave the IEPA as it is, but merge the policy operation of ENR with the IPCB to give the latter a fact-finding and analysis capability that would reduce its vulnerability to the corporate

consultants and lawyers that appear before it in rules cases.

● Combine the Department of Conservation's natural areas programs never comfortable with the sports orientation of that agency with the Illinois State Museum and the existing Historical Preservation Agency into a new "Heritage Preservation Agency" or some such.

● Merge ENR's coal-technology programs and the three scientific surveys which are pro-industry with Mines and Minerals to create a new resources development agency.

None of these changes would save money, of course; their appeal is mainly aesthetic. Merging agencies is like creating artificial nation-states by arbitrarily drawing lines across maps without regard to ethnic, religious, and historical realities. An outfit like the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities is like Yugoslavia with Xerox machines.

In fact, mergers almost always make things less efficient rather than more. It probably takes two years for a staff to learn how to function in a new environment. Delays and mistakes are unavoidable while people learn a new system; inefficiencies are inevitable during a phase-in when old systems overlap. Look how long it is taking the Edgar administration to learn how to run state government. ●





John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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