Act 38 of 1971

Act 38 of 1971, which reorganized sixty state government agencies into thirteen cabinet-level departments, was the culmination of reform efforts that had begun during the administration of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller but were only achieved under Governor Dale Bumpers, who was widely credited with the successful passage of the measure. Bumpers described the act, which was designed to increase the economy and efficiency of state government, as the most vital part of his legislative program. As the first general reorganization of state government in the twentieth century, Act 38 was hailed for simplifying state operations and curbing graft.

Prior to Act 38, the governor had little authority to dismiss uncooperative or corrupt agency heads, who served at the pleasure of their respective boards rather than at the pleasure of the governor. This often resulted in regulatory agencies and commissions essentially being controlled by the industries they were meant to supervise. Corruption in state agencies was especially rampant during the twelve years of Orval Faubus’s tenure as governor (1955–1967). For example, the State Insurance Department had approved numerous rate hikes—until it finally had to backtrack due to popular displeasure—and had allowed the state’s insurance market to exist as an unregulated free-for-all. Likewise, the Arkansas Real Estate Association, a group of private operators, held the de facto power to appoint members to the state’s Real Estate Commission, an agency intended to regulate those very operators. A lack of clear lines of authority for the myriad agencies and commissions meant that reining in such abuses was difficult. Governor Rockefeller attempted to reform a few of these commissions and agencies but experienced only limited success, with Democrats in the state legislature refusing to endorse the Republican governor’s efforts to renovate state government in a comprehensive manner.

However, Rockefeller’s successor, Dale Bumpers, made the reform of state government one of his signature issues, calling in his inaugural address for the consolidation of state agencies, saying that such a measure would “give us more efficiency, more effectiveness, eliminate some duplication, achieve better coordination, effect some economics and give the governor’s office a much clearer view of all functions of state government.” The governor’s plan was introduced into the state House of Representatives (House Bill 2) and state Senate (Senate Bill 22) on January 12, 1971.

Opposition to the measure was framed largely on the basis that the proposal was being advanced far too quickly. The Arkansas Wood Products Association—a professional association of paper mills, sawmills, and the like—asked that the action be deferred for more study. However, the heads of some state boards and commissions, as well as a few members of the Arkansas General Assembly, objected to some aspects of the plan, especially the fact that members of certain boards and commissions would serve at the pleasure of the governor—meaning that he or she could fire them at will—rather than at the pleasure of their respective agencies. Members of the State Board of Education raised the specter of their work being politicized through such gubernatorial control. Despite these objections, the legislation passed the state House of Representatives on January 20 by a vote of 92–4; subsequently, it went to the state Senate, where it passed handily by a vote of 32–3 on January 29. It was signed into law by Governor Bumpers on February 4, 1971.

Act 38 organized the state government into the following departments:

·        Department of Planning (merging the Arkansas Planning Commission, Civil Defense Agency, Arkansas Department of Aeronautics, Office of Aging, and Executive Office of Civil Defense and Disaster Relief)

·        Department of Finance and Administration (merging the State Administration Department, Department of Revenue, Arkansas Racing Commission, and Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control)

·        Department of Industrial Development (created from the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission)

·        Department of Parks and Tourism (merging the State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission, as well as other history- and park-related commissions)

·        Department of Pollution Control and Ecology (created from the Pollution Control Commission)

·        Department of Higher Education (created from the Commission on Coordination of Higher Education Finance)

·        Department of Education (merging the State Board of Education, Educational Television Commission, State Library Commission, and Arkansas School for the Blind)

·        Department of Health (merging the State Board of Health, State Cancer Commission, and Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium)

·        Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services (merging the state hospitals, Arkansas Children’s Colony, State Department of Public Welfare, Arkansas Juvenile Training School Department, Arkansas Juvenile School Department, Arkansas Juvenile Training School Board, Arkansas Commission on Alcoholism, and Workmen’s Compensation Commission)

·        Department of Correction (left untouched by this act)

·        Department of Public Safety (merging the Department of Arkansas State Police, State Militia, and Arkansas Wing of the Civil Air Patrol)

·        Department of Labor (left largely untouched, though the Office of State Mine Inspector was added to it)

·        Department of Commerce (merging the State Insurance Department, Arkansas Commerce Commission, State Plant Board, Oil and Gas Commission, Arkansas Geological Commission, State Forestry Commission, Soil and Water Conservation Commission, and Liquefied Petroleum Gas Board)

A few changes have been made since the act went into effect. The Department of Planning and the Department of Public Safety no longer exist, though some of their functions have been assumed by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, created in 1981 and given full department status in 1999. Likewise, the Department of Commerce has since been dissolved, with its various boards and commissions being distributed among other sectors of state government. A few departments have changed names, with the Department of Pollution Control and Ecology becoming the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, and the Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services being renamed the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Several new departments have also been added to the roster of state agencies since the passage of Act 38. By and large, however, the form of Arkansas’s state government remained the same as that established by Act 38 until 2019, when Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law another extensive reorganization of state government.

For additional information:
Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Arkansas, 1971. Little Rock: General Assembly of the State of Arkansas, 1971.

Dumas, Ernest. “Bumpers Vows Not to Waste ‘Awakening of Our People.’” Arkansas Gazette. January 13, 1971, pp. 1A, 11A.

———. “Reorganization Passes, 32 to 3, in the Senate.” Arkansas Gazette. January 30, 1971, pp. 1A–2A.

Garrison, Jerol. “Reorganization Plan Explained to House Panel.” Arkansas Gazette. January 14, 1971, p. 3A.

“Reorganization is Approved by Legislature.” Arkansas Gazette. February 3, 1971, pp. 1A–2A.

Smith, Doug. “Bumpers’ Proposal on Reorganization Passes House, 92–4.” Arkansas Gazette. January 21, 1971, pp. 1A–2A.

Trimble, Mike. “Board Objects to Proposal.” Arkansas Gazette. January 18, 1971, pp. 1A–2A.

Urwin, Cathy K. Agenda for Reform: Winthrop Rockefeller as Governor of Arkansas, 1967–1971. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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