Inslee hires area agency to help fill Cabinet

bshannon@theolympian.comDecember 29, 2012 

Gov.-elect Jay Inslee’s transition team has hired headhunters who are shopping nationwide for talented people to run top agencies in the new administration.

Who stays, who goes – it’s still a big question for two dozen Cabinet agencies and many smaller ones as Inslee, a Democrat, gets ready to take over running the Evergreen State on Jan. 16.

Olympia-based hiring firm, Karras Consulting, has put out an ad seeking applicants to lead the Department of Transportation, which has 6,700 employees and a budget of $7.8 billion. Other big searches led by Karras are under way for Department of Social and Health Services secretary, chief information officer, Employment Security commissioner, Health Care Authority director and Labor and Industries director.

Inslee has made clear to all of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s two-dozen cabinet agency leaders — and some at lower positions — they must reapply if they want to say on permanently. Inslee spokesman Sterling Clifford says the process is the same for every position.

This reflects the reality that “you have the opportunity at the beginning of an administration to make sure you have the absolute best person” in every agency, Clifford said.

So far, a few incumbents — including Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond — are asking to stay on, and it looks as if Hammond might face competition from other in-state candidates.

“Paula submitted her résumé to the Inslee team and is interested in staying on as Transportation secretary and continuing to improve the state’s multimodal transportation system,” DOT spokesman Steve Pierce said in an email. “Paula is committed to addressing the challenges of insufficient funding over the next 10 years to maintain and preserve existing transportation assets around the state.”

Mike Armstrong, a Wenatchee Republican who worked for the Department of Transportation for 21 years and helped write the state’s transportation budget as a state legislator, could seek the top DOT job.

Armstrong lost his bid for re-election to the House in November. He has told Inslee he is interested in the job and said he probably would apply.

“There are some things that need to have some special attention paid to them,” Armstrong said, citing concerns about the state ferry system and the planned replacements of the state Route 520 bridge over Lake Washington and the Columbia River Crossing on Interstate 5. “Having a fresh look and a new set of eyes might not be a bad idea.”

Armstrong supervised bridge crews at Transportation, then served 12 years in the House, eventually becoming the top Republican on the Transportation Committee. He helped Democratic Chairwoman Judy Clibborn write the budget that includes the department’s operations, and he said the bipartisan cooperation was unprecedented on that committee in recent years.

Some agency leaders have said they are leaving. Judy Schurke told Gregoire a few weeks ago she is leaving Labor and Industries, and DSHS Secretary Robin Arnold-Williams plans to go back to consulting and teaching at the University of Washington. Schurke had worked her way up the ranks at L&I, while Arnold-Williams was brought to Washington by Gregoire, who plucked her from the Utah governor’s Cabinet to serve during 2005-08; Arnold-Williams then ran Gregoire’s Executive Policy Office, retired and returned to DSHS a year ago to fill a vacancy left by Susan Dreyfus.

The Health Care Authority is run by MaryAnne Lindeblad, who stepped in this year when Director Doug Porter, who oversaw the transfer of Medicaid programs from DSHS into the HCA, left to open an Olympia office for Health Management Associates, a national health care policy and consulting firm.

Another big void is being created at the Office of Financial Management where state budget director Stan Marshburn is retiring. His immediate predecessor, Marty Brown, left just a few months ago to direct the community college system.

In his campaign, Inslee said he would be a disruptive force for change and improvements in agencies. The hiring agency’s job announcement for DOT leader does not specify a deadline, but does say Inslee wants “a credible and unifying leader to bring change and innovation to the state and improve the performance of government. This job requires an energetic, visionary and effective leader’’ who must have competence in using Toyota-style “Lean management” tools to streamline agency work.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 @BradShannon2

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