I’ve been asking DHS for two days about reports that Dawn Stehle was being elevated at DHS to the deputy director’s job being vacated by Mark White. The non-response was telling. The news release is even more telling of the unhappy Republicans that tipped me on this change in the first place.

That is, Stehle’s elevation to deputy director comes in the release after several paragraphs that say Republican wingnut David Sterling, the DHS counsel, will be head of a policy review committee along with some other blue-ribbon Republican types (Kelley Linck, John Parke).


I have no dog in this hunt. Stehle is a veteran at DHS, a moderately inclined and respected leader, but viewed with suspicion by some hardliners precisely for her experience pre-Asa. She remains in her position in charge of Medicaid. The release:

Effective Sept. 1, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) will create a centralized policy review committee that reports directly to DHS Director Cindy Gillespie as part of the agency’s second phase of reorganization. Additionally, the Medicaid Director position will be elevated to a direct report to the DHS Director.

Deputy Director Mark White’s decision to leave his position with DHS for non-profit work effective last week gave Gillespie the opportunity to move forward with this part of her reorganization plans.

“It is important that as agency director I have more oversight of policy changes being considered,” Gillespie said.

As such DHS Chief Counsel David Sterling will serve as chair of the newly-formed policy review committee. Under Sterling’s direction, the committee will vet all substantive policy changes for the agency prior to final review and approval by Gillespie. Other members of the committee will be DHS Chief of Staff Brian Bowen; both deputy directors; Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Chief Kelley Linck; Chief of Finance Mark Story; and Director of the DHS Office of Payment Integrity and Audit John Parke. Sterling will continue to serve as Chief Counsel and will also pick up White’s former role as senior legal advisor to Gillespie.

Dawn Stehle, current director of Arkansas Medicaid, will continue her work at DHS in a new role as Deputy Director for Health and Medicaid. Earlier this year, John Stephen, a consultant hired by the state Legislature, recommended boosting the Medicaid Director position to a Deputy Director level. The elevation of this position is in line with the significant resources and staff assigned to Arkansas Medicaid.

“Given that Medicaid’s budget accounts for $7.6 billion of our budget this fiscal year, making our Medicaid team lead a direct report was an easy decision. It makes sense for the person responsible for Medicaid to report directly to me rather than through a deputy director,” Gillespie said. “These changes, along with the addition of a yet-to-be-named senior Medicaid policy advisor, will help strengthen the state’s Medicaid program and provide a more robust structure to oversee future health reforms,” Gillespie said.

This announcement does not end the reorganization, Gillespie said, adding that she continues to look more broadly at how to make the agency a more client-centered organization that also has the ability to better recruit and retain high-performing employees. In June, Gillespie announced the first of a multi-phase reorganization that included centralized agency business functions, including procurement, human resources, finance and information technology.