Whitmer names permanent head of sprawling Health and Human Services Dept.

Gretchen Whitmer | Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan photo, Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has tapped a veteran of former President Barack Obama’s administration to lead the state’s largest department. 

Robert Gordon, former acting deputy director for the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and current finance executive for New York City nonprofit The College Board, is Whitmer’s pick to head up the sprawling Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The department has 14,000 employees and accounts for 44 percent of the state’s $56.8 billion budget.

Robert Gordon

Gordon will take over for Farah Hanley, DHHS’s deputy director for finance operations, who Whitmer appointed last month to lead the agency in an acting capacity. Former Gov. Rick Snyder’s DHHS director, Nick Lyon, is on trial for his role in the Flint water crisis.

Whitmer said that the permanent director would “inspire confidence.” She appears to have found that person in Gordon.

“I have full confidence that Robert will work every day to improve public health and deliver essential human services for Michiganders across the state,” Whitmer said in a statement. “He brings a unique set of skills and experiences that will lead the Department of Health and Human Services to drive real results that help hardworking families, and I look forward to working with him and the rest of our department leaders as we build a stronger Michigan for everyone.”

The state’s DHHS oversees a wide variety of programs ranging from public assistance to the state’s Medicaid program — which includes new work requirements — to general health policy.

Whitmer considered breaking up the department during the transition period between the election and taking office, but is keeping it intact.

Flint River | Wikipedia Commons

Gordon says he’s up to the challenge of leading the organization, which has faced significant criticism over its handling of the Flint water crisis. 

“It’s such an honor to serve as Director of the Department of Health and Human Services,” Gordon said in a news release. “I look forward to working with Governor Whitmer and this administration as we improve public health and quality of life for Michiganders across the state. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work building a Michigan where everyone has access to the care they need and can make healthy decisions for themselves and their families. Let’s go.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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