Incoming Director Robert Gordon said early this month he believes there are “huge opportunities to improve services through the combination” of agencies that turned the Department of Health and Human Services into a huge 14,000-employee department.

“There are enormous connections between health and human services. People don’t live their lives in bureaucrat boxes,” he said in a telephone press conference today. “. . . I also know it is clear there is much more work to be done to leverage the combination and to get the full benefit.”

Gordon was appointed this month as the new DHHS director by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. He most recently was senior vice president of finance and global strategy for The College Board. Previously, he served under President Barack Obama as acting deputy director at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and was the acting assistant secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education.

Whitmer said in December she was considering breaking up DHHS and had been concerned with the combination when it was made under former Gov. Rick Snyder.

“I view it as an open question. I should say, I don’t think there is a final decision on this question. But my going in is to look hard at it and see if and how we can make a single agency really effective for people,” Gordon said. “. . . Often, it’s the same people on one side of the house that need services on the other side of the house.”

Gordon is replacing former director Nick Lyon. Lyon and former chief medical executive Dr. Eden Wells are still facing charges stemming from the Flint water crisis.

Asked how he intends to address morale in the department in the wake of those charges, Gordon said he would be “setting forth principles that we can all stand behind and that reflect our aspirations.”
Those principles include acting on data and evidence, putting the interests of the public ahead of the interests of the agency, treating all residents of Michigan with respect, “and lastly, we have to shepherd taxpayer dollars carefully. We have to treat taxpayer money like it’s our own,” he said.

Gordon said that while he knows improvements at the department are needed, he plans to listen to the staff and honor the work they do.

“I have personal experience working with case workers and social workers side by side, case by case trying to figure out how to do the right thing for a kid in terrible distress. I know how hard those jobs are. I know you don’t do those jobs for the money because the money is not great,” he said.

This story presented as part of a joint venture with MIRS, a Lansing-based news and information service.