©Copyright 2012 The Oklahoman
A former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and a retired Tennessee DHS deputy commissioner have emerged as the top two candidates to serve as the new director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
The nine-member Oklahoma Commission for Human Services will select the new director. Commissioners are expected to break up into small groups to interview the two candidates Wednesday, a spokeswoman said. No vote is
A search committee has narrowed its list of top candidates to Eric Bost, former U.S. ambassador to South Africa, and Ed Lake, a retired deputy commissioner of the Department of Human Services in Tennessee, The Oklahoman has learned.
Bost served as commissioner and chief executive officer of the Texas Department of Human Services from 1997 to 2001.
He then served as undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture before becoming U.S. ambassador to South Africa in 2006 during President George W. Bush's administration.
Bost later served as Texas A&M's vice president for global initiatives from January 2009 until the end of 2010, when the university abolished his position as part of a broader reorganization of the academic affairs office, according to The Bryan-College Station Eagle's website.
The other candidate, Lake, made a career out of working for the Department of Human Services in Tennessee. He served 39 years there — working his way up through the ranks before retiring as deputy commissioner in February 2011.
“He is a great guy and I say that as a professional adversary,” said Gordon Bonnyman Jr., executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, an advocacy group for vulnerable Tennesseans that frequently clashes with the Tennessee DHS.
Tennessee Justice Center officials thought so highly of Lake that they wrote an article praising him after his retirement was announced.
“Throughout his tenure, Ed proved himself an extremely ethical, dedicated official with great integrity,” the Feb. 28, 2011, article said. “As deputy commissioner, he focused on the big picture, but never lost sight of the individual impact that DHS has.”
The search committee has been working behind closed doors to narrow the list of about 55 candidates to the two that remain.
“The candidates who we are interviewing are both very impressive, and I'm very pleased that we are at this point with these people,” said Wes Lane, a DHS commissioner and member of the search committee. “I like both of these guys very much. I think both of them would do a great job.”
Rejecting both candidates and searching elsewhere remains an option, commissioners said.
“Out of the group of candidates, we have narrowed it to two, but we may want to expand our search a little further and consider other options,” said Commissioner Richard DeVaughn.
Commissioners are searching for a successor to Howard Hendrick, who resigned as Oklahoma's DHS director earlier this year after spending 13 years as head of Oklahoma's largest state agency.
The person chosen as the new director will assume leadership at a challenging time. The agency recently settled a massive federal class-action lawsuit over the alleged maltreatment of children in state care and is in the midst of developing an ambitious reform plan.
A review of the work histories of Lake and Bost would indicate neither is likely to be intimidated by the challenge.
Bonnyman said Lake was at his best two years ago when massive floods inundated much of Tennessee.
“We had enormous floods here through about half the counties,” Bonnyman said. “I remember he was just working around the clock and getting his staff to work around the clock. They had offices out of commission. There were people whose refrigerators — even if they
“He just moved heaven and earth to get emergency food stamp ... benefits out to people who had no previous experience with that whole set of benefits. He got it out there in a way that respected their dignity and made it very accessible in circumstances in which much of the infrastructure was in shreds. It was quite impressive.”
“He's just a very able administrator,” Bonnyman said. “I respect him not just for his values, but because he is very good at what he does.”
The other candidate also has led large and diverse agencies through complex tasks.
When Bost was U.S. ambassador to South Africa, he led one of the largest U.S. embassies in the world, with a staff of more than 1,000 representing 26 government agencies. He also managed the United States' emergency plan for AIDS relief in South Africa, providing services to more than 2 million South Africans suffering from HIV/AIDS.
In his previous post as an undersecretary, he led an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that had an annual budget of over $58 billion and was responsible for providing needy families with improved access to food and healthy diets.
Bost's federal service was not without controversy.
In 2004, a group of Democratic U.S. Representatives from Ohio called for his resignation over a remark he made that described people who eat at food banks as “taking the easy way out.”
Bost later explained his comments and rode out the controversy.
“The thing that I was concerned about and offended and to some extent insulted, is the inference that I was saying, ‘They're not hungry,' ” Bost later told an Ohio newspaper. “That's the furthest thing from the truth.”
Bost said he was only trying to say that it was easier to go a food pantry than to get food stamps or other government aid because the alternatives require more paperwork and proof of income.
Neither Lake nor Bost could be reached for
Many DHS staff members have lobbied interim DHS Director Preston Doerflinger to consider becoming a candidate for the permanent job, but Doerflinger told The Oklahoman late Friday that he remains committed to returning to his former post as director of another state agency.
“My plan continues to be to return to the Office of State Finance once a permanent director is chosen,” he said. “I've been overwhelmed and incredibly humbled by the people who have expressed they wish I would consider it, but at this point that is a distraction from the commission being able to find a permanent director to lead this thing going forward.”