Another DCF chief

Published: Sunday, January 9, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 8, 2005 at 10:38 p.m.
The administrative perspective of new DCF secretary Lucy Hadi may be key in helping her outshine her predecessors Another year, another secretary in charge of the Florida Department of Children & Families. Leadership changes often with the ebb and flow of the DCF's scandals and miscues - which come all too frequently.
Now comes Lucy Hadi, the interim secretary since mid-September who was recently named secretary by Gov. Jeb Bush. She succeeds Jerry Regier, who resigned after a state audit criticized the department's contracting procedures and questioned his relationship with a vendor.
Hadi has worked previously as a DCF administrator, was interim director of the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation and chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings. Hadi has been described as more of an administrator than an advocate for any particular cause.
Many past secretaries have been involved in children's issues, with mixed results. Hadi's administrative view of the agency may be what has been missing in the past.
"It's important that we remind everyone that public service is a sacred trust," Hadi said, "and the first thing we have to be responsible to is the public's interest and not self-interest."
Since taking office, Hadi has come up with some reforms - some of which may not prove popular with Bush, who has reduced the Tallahassee work force and privatized agency functions. Recently, Hadi said she wanted to place more of the agency's employees back under civil service protections - something the governor has reduced. That would offer a "safety net" for those walking a political tightrope when dealing with state-private contracts.
She is also working to reverse a trend started by Regier, the former secretary, of removing auditors from DCF district offices who were responsible for reviewing contracts with DCF providers.
"You can never legislate all aspects of human behavior, but we can provide controls that protect, as much as possible, the public against abuses and malfeasance," Hadi told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Emphasizing the need for reform on the contract-monitoring issue, Robert Fierro, the DCF official responsible for contracts for client services, resigned recently. He wrote that he was doing so because "an increasing body of evidence shows that ultimately the public is more often ill-served rather than well-served by haste in contracting."
He noted that the agency's contracted services grew by 50 percent from 2001 to today's $1.5 billion, but the contracting review staff decreased from 110 full-time employees back then to "less than half of that" today. "Decreasing contracting staff while increasing the value of the services for which they are expected to provide oversight and accountability is not a recipe for success," wrote Fierro.
While Gov. Bush implied that Fierro was part of the problem, investigative documents tell otherwise. Samara Kramer, DCF's chief of staff, told investigators this year that "Fierro had concerns about the gifts issue and whether there might be a tainted procurement because of (private) conversations occurring at" a birthday party held for Regier by a lobbyist for a Florida State University research institute that accumulated $4 million in DCF work.
And in May, Fierro warned that there were potential problems with awarding a $2 million contract to a company that had ties to Regier. "It must be set aside and nothing more may be done with it," he warned in a May 5 e-mail.
Hadi's public service is not unblemished, but perhaps she has learned from it. In 1992, she was criticized in a grand jury report for her part in the procurement of a major piece of computer equipment that was purchased without proper review. "This conduct can only be considered improper and wrong," the grand jury reported, and her conduct "amounted to a violation of departmental policies, procedures, procurement rules and regulations."
She explained her role by saying, "I was the one of the elephants following the parade. I didn't have anything to do with the process."
She's at the head of the parade now. Maybe her experience further down the line has helped her develop the motto of the lead elephant: Leave no mess behind.

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