After nearly three decades of trying to reduce the number of departments in state government, lawmakers have agreed to form a new one.

The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division has been part of the Department of Public Defense since 1986. It will become a separate state department on July 1, 2013.

The reason? In times of disaster, the head of the Emergency Management division essentially wound up being the boss of his own boss. The director of the Iowa Department of Public Defense is the adjutant-general of the Iowa National Guard. When there’s a state disaster, emergency management division chief Mark Schouten gets to tell the Guard’s leader — his own boss — where the troops should be deployed.

“General Orr had some valid concerns that was a bit of an anomaly,” Schouten says. “He wanted to clarify the chain of command and asked us and talked with the governor and we all agreed that is would make sense and be consistent with current practice that we were a department rather than being a division, under the National Guard.”

There’s no expense to changing the name of the division to The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department. They don’t have old letterhead to use up either.

“We print it with the office computer printer, so it’s not like we have a great deal of stationary,” Schouten says. “And I think is you look carefully you’ll see that maybe even some of our own documents already used the word ‘Department’ or at least it’s HSEMD and we can continue to use the same abbreviation.”

Schouten isn’t hiring any new employees, but he is reviewing the agency’s structure.

“We think it’s a good time to pull out the old ‘org’ charts, with an eye to looking forward on how best we can configure our office, as a department, to do the work of the citizens of the state of Iowa better,” Schouten says.

2003 was the last time lawmakers changed the configuration of state government, but that was to merge three state agencies and the division of another department into a new Department of Administrative Services. When the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management division becomes a department, there will be a total of 31 departments in state government.

Back in 1986, Democrats in the legislature and Republican Governor Terry Branstad approved a sweeping state government reorganization plan. It reduced the number of state departments from 68 to 24.