Mark White, chief of staff at the state Department of Human Services, will succeed departing department Secretary Cindy Gillespie, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday.
The governor appointed White, of Bryant, as the department's secretary, effective Oct. 8.
Hutchinson's announcement of Gillespie's successor came seven days after he announced her resignation, effective Oct. 7, after leading state government's largest executive branch department since 2016. Gillespie cited family reasons for her pending departure.
"I have the utmost confidence in Mark to lead the Department of Human Services," Hutchinson said in a news release issued by his office.
"His breadth of experience, working relationship with the Legislature, and his close working relationship with transfer work within DHS makes him the perfect fit to lead a department that provides critical services to children, senior citizens, and provides health care needs to the most vulnerable Arkansans," the Republican governor said.
White said the department's mission is to improve the quality of life for all Arkansans by protecting the vulnerable, fostering independence and promoting better health.
"Secretary Cindy Gillespie has led DHS in making great strides to pursue this mission, and I look forward to working with the Governor and the Arkansas General Assembly in continuing that good work," he said in the news release.
As the department's secretary, White's salary will be $201,700 a year, according to the governor's office. Gillespie's salary is $287,042 a year, according to the Arkansas Transparency website.
The department secretary job is widely considered one of the most difficult executive branch jobs in state government due to the department's wide scope of responsibilities that range from youth services to Medicaid that sometimes lead to controversy.
Hutchinson's eight-year tenure as governor ends in early January. The governor's successor may choose to replace some of the the executive branch's 15 department secretaries and retain some other department secretaries, retain all of them or replace all of them.
Republican nominee Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Little Rock, Democratic nominee Chris Jones of Little Rock and Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. of Pine Bluff are vying in the Nov. 8 general election for a four-year term as governor.
Both House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, and Senate Democratic leader Keith Ingram said late Thursday that White has been helpful to state lawmakers inquiring about matters at the department and is very capable of serving as the department's secretary.
Ingram said he's always found White to be knowledgeable, informative and responsive to questions posed by lawmakers.
Shepherd said he looks forward to working with White in his new role as the department's secretary.
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, said Thursday night that White is always seeking to find the best solutions through collaboration with all parties and with lawmakers.
"He has worked many years to improve the many, many programs under the Dept. of Human Services. I think it is a great appointment," Irvin said in a text message.
Besides serving as the department's chief of staff, White also serves as its chief legislative and intergovernmental affairs officer. He represents the department before the Arkansas Legislature and serves as a primary point of contact for legislators, elected officials, lobbyists and other state agencies, according to the governor's office.
In 2017, Hutchinson appointed White to the Governor's Transformation Advisory Board, which helped lay the groundwork for the reorganization of state government under which 42 executive-branch agencies were melded into 15 departments, starting in July of 2019.Hutchinson also appointed him to serve on the Arkansas Health Services Permit Commission.
Since he joined the department in 2013, White has served in a variety of capacities including work in the secretary's office, the office of chief counsel, and the Division of Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services.
He is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and the University of Arkansas School of Law.
The Department of Human Services has an annual budget of $10.6 billion and 7,381 positions, according to a department spokesman. It currently employs about 6,600. The state's Medicaid enrollment totaled 1,118,566 as of June 30.
The department's divisions include the Division of Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services, the Division of Children and Family Services, the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services, the Division of Provider Services & Quality Assurance, the Division of Child Care & Early Childhood Education, the Division of County Operations, the Division of Medical Services, and the Division of Youth Services.