Gov. Kim Reynolds appointed a new director of the Iowa Department of Human Services Thursday, with Kelly Kennedy Garcia set to replace Interim Director Gerd Clabaugh Nov. 1.
Garcia presently serves as deputy executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, overseeing more than 700 employees and a budget of $1.4 billion. The Iowa Department of Human Services employs roughly 4,600 people and has a budget of $6.5 billion.
The position was filled in an interim capacity after Reynolds asked the previous director, Jerry Foxhoven, to resign in June. The week before Foxhoven vacated his position, he sent Tupac-themed emails to staff in the department, having done so hundreds of times while on the job. Reynolds said at the time she wanted to take the department in a different direction, and has yet to clarify further what she means by that.
The governor said in a statement Garcia is an experienced leader and team builder with a passion for helping others and implementing change.
“For so many Iowans, [the Department of Human Services] provides the critical services, protection and support they need to live and thrive,” Reynolds said. “Kelly brings a depth of experience in a large-scale, high-impact government agency and will serve Iowa’s families and communities well in this vital role.”
Speaking with reporters, Reynolds said 30 to 40 people applied for the position from across the country.
Reynolds said she loved Garcia’s passion and energy, and that she comes from an agency already leading a budget and number of employees similar to what she would in her new role.
Garcia has served in other similar roles, having worked as deputy chief for the Office of Programs and Services. In that role, Garcia had oversight of Medicaid, eligibility operations, behavioral and mental health.
Garcia’s superior in Texas, Dr. Courtney N. Phillips, the executive commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services, said in a statement Garcia is a “masterful problem solver.”
“Her energy and expertise will be a true asset to the people of Iowa. She puts her heart into everything she does, and Texas wishes her all the best,” Phillips said.
Garcia said it will take a “strong team effort” at the Department of Human Services to meet the governor’s “ambitious goals” to serve Iowa’s vulnerable populations.
“I look forward to hitting the ground running and building relationships within our own team and across the state to help Iowa families succeed,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s appointment as director is dependent on approval by the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate.