Several major District agencies remain under interim leadership nearly three weeks into Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s administration, according to a list of cabinet appointments provided by her staff.
The agencies for which Bowser has neither nominated a new director nor kept on the leaders serving under former mayor Vincent C. Gray handle some of the city’s most crucial functions.
They include the Department of General Services, which builds and maintains government facilities; the Department of Employment Services, which manages job training and placement efforts and administers unemployment insurance; and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which handles a wide range of permitting and business licensing
Also under interim leadership are Fire and Emergency Medical Services, for which Bowser has pledged a national search for a new chief; State Superintendent of Education, which oversees education policy and coordination; the Department of Human Resources, which manages city personnel; and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Bowser spokesman Michael Czin said searches for agency leaders are ongoing.
“The mayor is committed to attracting and retaining the best and the brightest to individuals who are committed to helping improve services for District residents,” he said in an e-mail. “Every day, we’re bringing on staff to do just that.”
The directors of most city agencies are confirmed by the D.C. Council but serve at the will of the mayor.
One exception is the Office of Contracting and Procurement, whose leader is appointed for a five-year term. James D. Staton Jr., whose term was set to run through July 2016, announced in a Jan. 15 e-mail to staff that he was leaving his post immediately. He did not give a reason for his resignation.
Staton did not return messages seeking comment. Two people who spoke to Staton about the circumstances of his departure said he wished to fill out his term but had been asked to leave his post by the Bowser transition. Those sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations, said Staton had been in negotiations for a significant severance payment.
Czin declined to address the circumstances around Staton’s departure. “We thank him for his service to the District and wish him well in his future endeavors,” he said in an e-mail last week.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said he was “deeply concerned” about Staton’s departure. “The agency has made tremendous progress,” he said, citing renewed confidence across the government in the procurement department’s ability to conduct solicitations.
But Mendelson said he was otherwise satisfied with the pace of Bowser’s personnel decisions. “I think that the mayor has made a number of good appointments, and I think she’s ahead of where other mayors have been at this point,” he said.
A review of published news stories shows that Bowser’s staffing decisions are roughly on pace with those of Gray and predecessor Adrian M. Fenty. Gray, for instance, did not name a deputy mayor for health and human services or a leader for his health department until early February in 2011. Fenty made the bulk of his appointments before taking office on Jan. 2, 2007, but a few cabinet posts — notably a fire chief — remained unfilled until March.
Several agencies are currently under interim leadership — including the departments of health, human services, and youth rehabilitation — though Bowser has nominated permanent leaders, indicating that the new directors have yet to assume their posts.
The cabinet list also reveals that more than a dozen officials who served under Gray have retained their status as full directors and are expected to stay in the Bowser administration indefinitely.
They include William O. Howland of the Department of Public Works; Christopher Geldart of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency; Jennifer Greene of the Office of Unified Communications; Thomas Faust of the Department of Corrections; Max Houck of the Department of Forensic Sciences; Wayne Turnage of the Department of Health Care Finance; Chester McPherson of the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking; and Lucinda Babers of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Also remaining in their posts are John Thompson of the Office on Aging; Fred Moosally of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration; Laura Nuss of the Department of Disability Services; Charles Thornton of the Office on Returning Citizen Affairs; Monica Palacio of the Office of Human Rights; Eric Richardson of the Office of Cable Television and Phillip Lattimore of the Office of Risk Management.
Bowser had previously announced that D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson would remain in place.
Stephen T. Baron of the Department of Behavioral Health, is listed as the agency’s director, but he has resigned and is expected to leave his post next month after nearly nine years running mental health and substance abuse programs — including St. Elizabeths Hospital.
In a Jan. 12 e-mail to senior District officials, Baron said he resigned “based on personal reasons that have to do with what is in the best interest of my family and a desire to pursue a new professional opportunity.”
Bowser made one notable appointment quietly, without issuing a news release, picking Edward “Smitty” Smith to run the city’s Justice Grants Administration.
Smith, a D.C. native lawyer and former mid-level Obama administration appointee, gained some political prominence last year by mounting an energetic but unsuccessful run for D.C. attorney general.