Nice work if you can get it

Would you like to earn $90,000 a year supervising three employees, about whose work you have no expertise or professional background?

Sorry, you can’t get that job. In fact, you can’t even apply for that job, because Governor Terry Branstad considered no one else before giving the position to retiring Iowa House Republican Steve Lukan.

Lukan announced in January that he would not seek a sixth term in the legislature, where he most recently served as assistant majority leader. The redistricting process put his home base of New Vienna (Dubuque County) in a Democratic-leaning seat. In addition, Lukan got married last year and now resides with his wife in West Des Moines.

A well-paid job in state government suits the outgoing House Republican, and on May 30 Branstad appointed Lukan to run the governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy. In a statement, the governor said Lukan

has demonstrated himself as an exceptional leader in the Iowa House, and will be a great director of this important agency. […] We have seen the harmful effects of drugs across this state, and I will look to Steve to help us stay ahead of the dangerous trends that often emerge, wreaking havoc on Iowa’s families.

Branstad’s confidence in Lukan is surprising, given the newly-appointed director’s inexperience in this field. William Petroski noted some of the oddities in this Des Moines Register story:

Lukan, 33, was the only person considered for the $90,000-a-year post as the state’s so-called drug czar, which involves seeking “strategic approaches and collaboration to reduce drug use and related crimes.”

There were no other applicants or finalists, said Tim Albrecht, Branstad’s communications director. Nor was the job, which is considered an at-will position serving at the pleasure of the governor, publicized or advertised, he said.

“As is the case with many agency heads and directors, the governor approached Steve Lukan to lead the Office of Drug Control Policy. Gov. Branstad, recognizing Steve Lukan’s abilities, knowledge and leadership capacity, and the fact that he would not be seeking re-election, believed Steve was the best pick for this position,” Albrecht said. “Steve Lukan is a bright, hard-working individual widely respected by his legislative colleagues, and the governor is pleased he accepted this position to serve Iowans.”

Lukan, a Republican from New Vienna who served 10 years in the House before resigning Wednesday, has no record of special experience or expertise in drug policy issues. His background includes four years as an enlisted sailor in the U.S. Navy and a degree from Loras College in 2003 in political science. He helped his father run a family-owned tire service center until 2008, and has since been an account executive specializing in commercial insurance for a Dyersville firm. He has also been vice president of his church council. […]

A review of Branstad’s appointment practices last year by The Des Moines Register found the governor appointed all but one of the state’s 24 new department directors after highly targeted searches. Some of Branstad’s appointees had no experience in the subject matters overseen by the departments they now head. A few, who now direct hundreds of employees, had no previous management experience, according to state records and resumes obtained through an open records request.

Former State Representative Rod Roberts is one of those department directors appointed after no real search by the governor or his staff. Roberts admitted that he didn’t even apply for the Branstad administration job he was offered.

The latest Branstad hire is distinctive in one way, though:

Both Lukan and Albrecht said there was no relationship between the ex-lawmaker’s appointment and the fact Lukan had employed Branstad’s daughter-in-law, Adrianne Branstad, as his legislative clerk from the 2006 through the 2012 sessions. Adrianne Branstad is married to the governor’s son, Eric Branstad. Her pay had ranged from $4,966 to $8,135 annually for work through the 2011 session, according to state salary records.

You’d think Branstad would want to avoid the appearance of blatant nepotism. Then again, if he wants to hand a nice state government position to a soon-to-be-between-jobs Republican with family connections, he almost had to do it this way. Advertising the vacancy at the Office of Drug Control Policy would inevitably attract applicants more qualified than Lukan.

In this Sunday’s Des Moines Register, the editorial board noted,

it was tempting to pen an editorial reminding Branstad that those serving at his pleasure should have at least some expertise in the area of state government they’ll be overseeing. It’s reasonable to expect the administration to advertise openings and consider a few candidates.

But we decided not to expound on that today. Rather, there is a more important issue regarding the Office of Drug Control Policy: It should not even exist as a stand-alone state agency. The governor should not have had to hire anyone to be the director. Instead, the Iowa Legislature should eliminate the agency and delegate its responsibilities to another agency.

As of next month, the drug policy office will have four employees. That’s right: four. One of them will be the new director. Iowa’s so-called drug czar will collect $90,000 from taxpayers and receive generous fringe benefits to oversee three people. State lawmakers allocated about $240,000 in the coming budget year for the agency, about $100,000 less than the governor requested. Associate Director Dale Woolery said that means the office will have to cut its current staff of eight in half. […]

Originally established during the 1980s’ “war on drugs,” it focuses on drug prevention, treatment and enforcement. […]

It is impossible to justify an entire agency, with its own highly paid director, dedicated to drugs. It makes no more sense than dedicating an office to child abuse or illiteracy or any other social problem. The drug policy office serves no regulatory function. Relatively little federal grant money flows through it.

Nearly $120 million in state and federal funding is dedicated this year to substance abuse and drug-enforcement programs in Iowa. Public Health received more than $37 million. Human Services received about $30 million. Corrections received $9 million. The state office solely dedicated to focusing on drugs received $5 million. That small amount could easily be received and doled out by another state agency.

Cutting state government by 15 percent over five years was one of Branstad’s central promises during his 2010 campaign. Even now, the governor’s official website embraces this goal, to be reached through “new technologies and efficiencies.” It’s amusing to see Branstad describe the Office of Drug Control Policy as “this important agency.” A $90,000-per-year director supervising three employees is a textbook case for streamlining state government.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: Speaking to reporters on June 12, Branstad defended hiring Lukan, saying he has faith in state legislators’ experience. The governor added that he “seeks out people with talent” instead of waiting for them to apply for positions. He suggested Lukan’s job didn’t need to be advertised, because it has been “public knowledge” that the director’s position was available.

SECOND UPDATE: First Lady Chris Branstad defends the Lukan hire and the existence of a separate office on drug control policy in a guest editorial in the June 12 Des Moines Register.

Government should become more efficient. The ODCP is taking steps to do just that. First, the office and the Department of Public Safety plan to merge office space. This makes good fiscal sense while helping streamline communication.

Second, ODCP is exploring ways to improve administrative efficiency. While currently leveraging a 30-to-1 ratio of federal to state money, it is exploring ways to contract administrative services with other agencies to save taxpayer money.

Additionally, passionate advocates exist to combat drug abuse in the public health and public safety fields. ODCP exists to blend these camps into one effective strategy. […]

Each year, ODCP is responsible for creating a statewide plan to combat drug use. The office works across 10 state agencies and with local partners, taking the best ideas from public health, treatment and public safety professionals to create a multidisciplined strategy that is balanced and reduces redundancy and inefficiency.

It is important that an independent voice performs this critical function so a balanced strategy can be created. […]

The new director, Steve Lukan, has numerous contacts on both the federal and state level in key areas from his years of service as a legislator. He has hit the ground running and has an aggressive agenda for the office.

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