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.