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Arizona official hopes to help transform DES
The executive director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security has taken on a task as large as the state's largest agency.
Charles Carter, appointed three years ago by Gov. Jan Brewer to head up the agency that includes a wide range of programs that comprise the state's “safety net” for socially and economically challenged Arizonans, has undertaken a sweeping transformation of DES.
While in Yuma recently, Carter outlined the changes he wants to make and to seek support from the agency's stakeholders.
In the end, he hopes DES will better serve the state's most vulnerable residents and help them achieve the highest level of functionality they can. For many, he believes that will ultimately mean self sufficiency independent of state assistance.
Carter sees two flaws with DES's current structure.
One is a design flaw, he said. The department is really an umbrella of 51 individual single-purpose programs, he noted. Each one has its own objectives and rules and acts independently of the other programs
The other flaw is operational, Carter said. The agency's traditional goal has been efficient delivery of services. “It's not dedicated to the individuals it serves. It's not whether a person gets better. The focus now is on inputs. The system is one-size-fits-all as opposed to the person's individual circumstances. I want it to become person-centric … focus on the growth of the individual and reduce their dependence on the system.”
Changing that culture has become his life's work, Carter said, hoping to transform the agency into one where the various programs work together for the betterment of those DES serves.
Together, DES' programs impact the safety, well-being and self-sufficiency of Arizonans. These programs include basic human needs such as food and energy assistance, temporary financial support such as unemployment insurance benefits, eligibility for medical assistance, child support enforcement, vocational rehabilitation, child and adult protective services, intervention services for infants and toddlers at risk of developmental delays and services for those with disabilities.
DES is the state's largest agency with 9,500 employees, an annual budget of more than $600 million and a service-delivery system of providers and contractors throughout the state. In all, the agency serves 1.6 million Arizonans.
To launch Carter's vision, the agency has developed a five-year strategic plan that includes a two-year demonstration project to start in January involving 1,000 individuals who will be helped to become more self sufficient through a new, holistic business model. Some may become completely independent while others may always need some degree of assistance but not to the extent they do now.
“We're talking about a fundamental redesign,” Carter said. “Not just tinkering.”
It has to happen even as DES continues to deliver services.
“We have to change all the tires of the agency as the car moves down the road,” he said.
And the transformation will be a long-term process, he acknowledged, one that is apt to meet with resistance.
But he's hopeful it's one the agency's stakeholders, partners and the greater community it serves will be supportive.