Staff Editorial

Iowa DHS: New director, no direction

Gov. Kim Reynolds is interviewed in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 6, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds is interviewed in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 6, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Gov. Kim Reynolds says she doesn’t want to micromanage her next director of the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Last week, the governor announced her appointment of Kelly Garcia to lead one of the largest entities in state government. The position was vacated after the governor asked former director Jerry Foxhoven to retire, without offering a detailed explanation for the leadership change.

During a recent news conference, Reynolds articulated her light-touch philosophy for overseeing her appointees.

“You set the vision, the big picture, kind of what the goal is, you articulate that vision to very talented people that you bring on board, that you believe can go out there and execute,” Reynolds said, as reported by the KGLO radio station.

Fair enough. Like Reynolds said, executives are supposed to set the vision and then empower their subordinates to execute.

Problem is, Reynolds still hasn’t articulated her vision for human services in Iowa.

Garcia is set to start her new position in November, leaving her post as deputy executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Her education and experience managing employees and a large budget would seem to be good preparation to lead Iowa’s troubled department, but that expertise is not worth much if there’s no strategic direction from the top of the state government.


The Department of Human Services manages the Medicaid program, which has seen unsustainable cost increases and delayed provider payments since Reynolds’ predecessor, Terry Branstad, transitioned it to a privately managed system in 2016.

Critics of the privatized program, including Democrats in the Iowa Legislature, have repeatedly complained that Reynolds and her associates are unwilling to have a meaningful discussion about reforming Medicaid, to include bringing part of the program back to public management.

After Foxhoven’s ouster in June, Reynolds said she wanted to take the department in “a new direction,” and that “many factors” went into her decision. This editorial board has joined concerned Iowans in demanding a clearer explanation of Reynolds’ plans, to no avail.

The controversy surrounding Reynolds’ abrupt personnel shake-up still lingers. Last month, Foxhoven filed a wrongful termination complaint, claiming he was pushed out because he questioned the legality of the Reynolds administration’s decision to fund the salary of an employee in the governor’s office.

Iowans wish Garcia the best in her new job, and hope she can overcome the challenges faced by the department she will oversee. Unfortunately, the governor has not set her up for success.

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