Under the Dome

Cansler appointed to head DHHS

Gov.-elect Beverly Perdue on Tuesday chose Lanier Cansler to be the next head of the state Department of Health and Human Services, creating a thicket of conflicts of interest within one of the state's largest agencies, reports Lynn Bonner.

Cansler is a former DHHS deputy secretary who left his state job in 2005 after four years. He started a consulting and lobbying firm, Cansler Fuquay Solutions, and developed a client list that includes work for companies that do business with DHHS.

Cansler was the registered lobbyist for Computer Sciences Corporation, a Virginia company that won a $265.2 million contract a few weeks ago to build and run a Medicaid bill-paying system for the state.

Perdue said she carefully vetted Cansler. "I really believe Secretary Cansler understands that the mission of DHHS is to put our citizens first," she said.

Cansler said his experience inside and outside the department will help him. "My plan is to bring all this experience and background together," Cansler said.

Cansler told reporters that he registered as a lobbyist strictly out of caution. He did no real lobbying other than to introduce his clients to lawmakers.

Perdue said she talked about lobbying issues extensively and that Cansler will not participate in decisions that might present a conflict of interest.

More after the jump.


As DHHS secretary, Cansler will be responsible for overseeing CSC's contract and considering whether the award was fair if CSC’s competitor challenges it.

Cansler also worked for the company that won the Medicaid claims contract in 2004 and had it taken away two years later. He was a registered lobbyist for Value Options, a company that evaluates mental health care for Medicaid patients. Legislators want to phase-out Value Options and return that job to local government mental health offices, while Value Options is fighting to keep the work.

Cansler also lobbies for the ARC of North Carolina, a private provider that does business with the state and helps shape policies on issues related to the developmentally disabled.

State law prevents lobbyists from being appointed to regulatory boards and commissions they lobby, said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. While the law doesn’t address lobbyists taking charge of state agencies, Phillips said there should be a “cooling off period” of at least 12 months between lobbying for an agency and being appointed to run it.

Update: Post now includes more complete response from Cansler and Perdue. Tense has been changed to reflect the fact that as of today, Cansler is no longer a registered lobbyist.


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Re: Cansler appointed to head DHHS

Most of us who worked in the mental health field during the so-called "mental health reform" knew that it was going to be a train wreck, but when you build a system on the delusion that the private sector can do things better, you crank up a system that is money driven and clients do not always get served. It was useless, in my opinion to say anything about it, and when you did, Carmen Hooker and her staff did not want to hear about it, although I think she meant well. Regarding Cansler lobbying for the CSC contract, all I can say is that, at least it did not go to Ross Perot's EDS company this time. He's made enough money off of the government he scorned so much. I wish the best to Mr. Cansler. He will need all of the support he can get to turn this thing around. It wasn't broken to begin with. It just needed a little tweaking just like any organization needs from time to time.

Re: Cansler appointed to head DHHS

I have to say I agree with bellasmama on this.

I think this was a choice to which Perdue obviously gave a lot of long, hard thought, and that there is real potential here for meaningful change. I don't know Cansler (and am generally distrustful of Republicans), but am hopeful that his experience within the system will stand him in good stead as he addresses the mess at DHHS.

I have a pretty jaded perspective about Perdue, but would like to be disabused of it. This is a good start.

Re: Cansler appointed to head DHHS

Lanier Cansler left DHHS under his own steam, as frustrated as the many advocates for the disabled, aged, mentally ill and those suffering from substance abuse disorders. He knows where the opportunities lie and where the agency needs to be cleaned up. He is well regarded and respected for his knowledge, ability and character. I'll bet he did not take this job unless he understood that the new Governor would back up his decisions (something the other one would not). I doubt he went looking for this position - I'll bet the new administration came looking for him - and KUDOS to Bev if that's what she did. Who'da thunk hiring a REPUBLICAN to head up the dysfunctional circus at HHS was what she meant by "shaking things up"! Takes a no-nonsense woman to think outside the box, hire someone that can handle the issues with a business approach and IGNORE party affiliations!

Re: Cansler appointed to head DHHS

Interesting quote from Mr. Cansler (REPUBLICAN) from the May 2005 Socialized Medicine Blog:

“Lanier Cansler, a Republican who recently stepped down as the No. 2 official in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said, “Everyone is beginning to understand that Medicaid isn’t going to be sustained as it is.” …”

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