By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If you were in the middle of a vacation and got a call asking you to head up a giant bureaucracy that has been plagued with problems, would you say yes?

Veteran private and public sector executive Pam Wheelock did say yes when Gov. Tim Walz asked her to become interim commissioner of the Department of Human Services.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services has an $18 billion budget, 6,700 employees and serves roughly 1 million Minnesotans — many of whom are the state’s most vulnerable citizens. On top of that, DHS is going through a rocky time.

Last week, Commissioner Tony Lourey abruptly resigned, as did his chief of staff. Their resignations came after two top deputy commissioners, Charles Johnson and Claire Wilson, announced they were leaving. But after Lourey quit, Johnson and Wilson announced they would rescind their resignations and come back.

Earlier this year, an investigation also revealed evidence of pervasive fraud in a DHS-administered daycare program. DHS inspector general Carolyn Ham has been on paid leave for four months pending the outcome of the investigation, in which it turns out, just got underway.

Wheelock has now agreed to head up DHS temporarily. Wheelock says she can’t comment on what’s happened in the past.

“I will admit that I did want to assure myself that there was nothing of a criminal or legal issue that would consume my time, and I was assured by the governor’s office. So frankly, between my skill set and my availability, I was hard-pressed to find a reason to say no,” Wheelock said.

Wheelock says she is not a candidate for the permanent position and she is not sure how long she will serve.

You can watch WCCO Sunday Morning with Esme Murphy and Mike Augustyniak every Sunday at 6 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Esme Murphy

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