Department of Economic Security

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Clarence Carter, the new director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security, outlines his plans and priorities for the agency.

Ted Simons: The Department of Economic Security has a new director. He is Clarence Carter, and he was most recently head of Washington, D.C.'s department of human services. Carter has a tough job, taking over an agency hit with substantial budget cuts. Joining me now is Clarence Carter. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Clarence Carter: Pleased to be with you.

Ted Simons: Before we get started, for those who aren't aware of DES, describe the department.

Clarence Carter: The Department of Economic Security is essentially the Arizona safety net department. Its programs that are categorical programs meant to address issues of social and economic vulnerability. So it's got things like child welfare, adult protective services, the unemployment insurance, the public assistant program called temporary assistance for needy families. It's all things for socially and economically vulnerable Arizonans.

Ted Simons: Is that too much for one agency to handle?

Clarence Carter: I don't think the issue is that it's too much. I think the issue is that the programs were not designed to work in conjunction with each other. So it really is like 51 separate programs. Part of my argument about the need for transformation of the safety net system is that it has to be much more integrated so that we can take a comprehensive approach to building the capacity of socially and economically challenged Arizonans.

Ted Simons: It was interesting because I note you do have this first, transforming DES. You see the almost separate fiefdoms, these 51 categories, and there almost is a need to shove someone into a category when they could be involved in a number of categories.

Clarence Carter: And not could be, but are. Many of the consumers we serve need multiples of our interventions. But the interventions were designed singularly to address one specific purpose. It is difficult to have those interventions work in conjunction to make a whole and comprehensive approach to addressing the challenges that individual or family has. Therein is lies part of the problem that has to be changed.

Ted Simons: So how do you blur the edges of some of these separate categories?

Clarence Carter: One, you can have certain rules waived with the forgiveness the federal government. They would allow to you waive some. But at the end of the day it'll take a major reconstruction of the system so that it can take this more person-centric and more comprehensive approach.

Ted Simons: Does it make it more efficient, A; and B, does it help in terms of funding?

Clarence Carter: One, it absolutely makes it more efficient and effective from the consumer's standpoint. It needs to be focused on moving the consumers through the system, not having the consumer reside in the system. Right now the way it works is we focus on the delivery of benefits, goods and services, not growing the capacity of the person to move beyond. It's absolutely more effective for the consumer, and actually from a budgetary standpoint, it costs us millions of dollars for each of the individual silos, if you will. If we were to take more enterprise approach, then I believe that we could redistribute the millions of dollars I believe are misspent towards actually serving people. For instance, we have -- many of those programs have their own technological underpinning. So literally, we have built the technology for each of these programs. Most of the technology doesn't talk to each other. We've made that investment over and over and over and over again. The only folks that have gotten healthy on that are the vendors that sell us the systems.

Ted Simons: The idea of it being a delivery system now, as opposed to moving someone through the system and getting them out of the system, it's a great idea, but how do you do that?

Clarence Carter: I think you have to first change the intent of the system. And part of what I have come here with the Governor's mandate to do is to reform the system and explain, first, that we need to be intentional about that notion of moving people through. So not just delivering services but moving folks through. So the first thing we have to do is say this emperor has no clothes. In reclothing the emperor, we do that from the perspective where we are changing the focus to be one from delivering goods and services to actually moving people through and building their capacity.

Ted Simons: It might take a lot of folks to find a new wardrobe for the emperor. And it sounds like DES is always underfunded, understaffed. How do you make those kinds of big changes with so few people?

Clarence Carter: Well, first of all, I would challenge the issue of it being underfunded. I would say that it's not clear whether or not we have all the resources that we have, because of the construction of the safety net. We spend the existing resources so poorly. As I talked about, in funding all of the individual silos, you are spending -- you're duplicating the spending of those dollars. If you took a more "enterprise" approach, you wouldn't have to make those investments over and over again and you could redistribute the dollars to see if you actually had enough. That's one. I think, too, we do have issues with our labor force, from the perspective of needing to have more individuals to help us do this work. And so we are constantly out beating the bushes, trying to find individuals who want to serve their community in this way.

Ted Simons: Last question, real quickly: critics say the Arizona government in particular simply is not interested in helping the truly needy. This is what you're getting yourself into. How would you respond?

Clarence Carter: I respond by saying I don't think that's the issue at all. I think the way we are going about helping is what I understand is a challenge. The way we're currently going about helping is a protectionist system which is designed for people to reside in it, not to help them move on. I believe this legislature would be a full partner in trying to construct a system which is about growing human capacity and about moving people through the system.

Ted Simons: All right, very good. Nice to meet you, thanks for joining us.

Clarence Carter: It's my pleasure, thanks for having me.

Clarence Carter:Director, Arizona Department of Economic Security;

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