When Brian Wilbon becomes interim secretary of the Department of Human Resources today, the former accountant will have a good idea of what he'll need to accomplish to get the temporary tag removed from his title.
Just how much time he will have to do it remains the question.
Wilbon, 40, will replace Brenda Donald, who left the position last week and begins working for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in August. Success, Wilbon said, lies in expanding the strategies put in place by his predecessor, singling out the progress the department has made in reducing the number of children in foster care and group homes. But Wilbon will also inherit a court judgment against the department and a mandate to provide Marylanders food stamps and other medical benefits in a timely manner.
How well he accomplishes those challenges could determine his fate, Wilbon acknowledges.
DHR was sued last year by an Owings Mills woman who had to wait months to receive food stamps, and a Circuit Court judge ordered the department to deliver those services within 30 days to all who qualify, as the law dictates, starting by the end of this year.
"I want to make sure we maintain our continuity and maintain the progress we've made to date, continuing our Place Matters agenda ensuring that we're doing the right things for children and getting them in their appropriate settings," Wilbon said. "Of course, the other big issue is continuing to make progress in the lawsuit. Obviously we're going to have to put a lot of resources, and time and commitment to make sure we do a better job."
Wilbon currently serves as deputy director of administrative operations, and his ascension to the top spot arrives amid the backdrop of an election year
With the November gubernatorial election looming, Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he will undergo a nationwide search for Donald's successor, although the timeline for the hire is unclear. Former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is seeking his old post, has criticized O'Malley for not having a clear successor for the department.
The agency oversees the state's foster care system and administers food and energy assistance to low-income residents.
"The election will take care of itself," Wilbon said. "I'm confident in my ability to do this job, and the skills that I have developed over these past 20 years speak for themselves. I don't mean to be arrogant but I like me, and no matter what, I'll be fine."
Wilbon has navigated the political arena before, surviving in Washington when Mayor Anthony Williams lost to Adrian M. Fenty in 2006. Fenty kept Wilbon on his staff until Donald hired him shortly after she became human resources secretary in February 2007.
Donald and Wilbon had worked together in Washington during Williams' tenure.
"We have very complementary backgrounds and styles," Donald said. "Brian's expertise and training is as an accountant but he fully understands the programmatic side of the work. He's just one of the smartest people I know and personally compassionate about the people we serve, vulnerable people. He has a soft side many accountants don't have, and he's always been my 'go to' person."
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Wilbon went to Hampton University in Virginia before working for Community Mutual of Ohio. He transferred to Blue Cross of Maryland as a Medicare auditor, reviewing hospitals and nursing homes to ensure that the money they received from the federal government was an appropriate amount.
After working for a nursing home provider as a reimbursement analyst, Wilbon eventually landed a job in 1999 with a company contracted to do work with DHR. He was hired in 2004 by Williams to coordinate the District's Medicaid efforts, implementing a new billing system that streamlined receiving money from the federal government.
Wilbon said all the stops have readied him to lead his own agency.
"I think I need to continue to move the department forward. We're showing results," Wilbon said. "We're showing that we did move forward with the vision and road map laid out by Secretary Donald, which I think clearly are the right things to do."
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