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Cherokee Nation citizen Mary Smith to helm Indian Health Service






Mary Smith of the Indian Health Service speaks at the National Congress of American Indians executive council winter session in Washington, D.C., on February 23, 2016. Photo by NCAI / Twitter

Another leadership change is underway at the Indian Health Service as the Obama administration winds down.

Mary Smith, a member of the Cherokee Nation who joined the agency last fall, is now serving as acting director. The change was made effective by Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on Tuesday.

"Mary has significant management experience from her time working in federal and state government and in the private sector," Burwell said in an email to IHS employees on Tuesday afternoon. "Mary’s expertise on Native American issues and track record of delivering impact for the tribal community will undoubtedly be great assets to IHS as she assumes this new role."

Officially -- and more significantly -- Smith has been designated as the new principal deputy director at the IHS. She succeeds Robert McSwain, a member of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, in that role.


Former acting and former principal deputy director Robert McSwain speaks at a July 27, 2015, meeting in Rockville, Maryland. Photo by Andrew Bahl for Indianz.Com

According to the email, McSwain is taking a different position at IHS in order to spend more time with his family. He testified before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on February 3 and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the panel's vice chairman, noted that he was dealing with some unspecified issues.

"I'm not going to elaborate on those but there are serious issues that are going in your personal life," Tester said as he thanked McSwain for appearing.

McSwain's new position was not revealed in Burwell's email.

"Bob has been a steward for IHS and committed to its mission of ensuring high quality comprehensive health services are available and accessible to American Indian and Alaska Native people across the United States," Burwell wrote.

McSwain has worked for the IHS since 1976. After rising through the ranks, he served as acting director between September 2007 and May 2008, when he was officially confirmed by the Senate as the director. He had been nominated by then-president George W. Bush for that post.

He served until May 2009, when the Senate confirmed Yvette Roubideaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe as director. He then assumed the role of principal deputy.

But in February 2015, he was once again tapped to serve as acting director because Roubideaux was unable to stay in that role due to limits in federal law. She had been nominated by President Barack Obama to serve a second term but the Senate never confirmed her. She eventually departed the administration in June 2015.

The text of Secretary Burwell's email follows:
Colleagues,

I am pleased to announce that IHS Deputy Director Mary Smith, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, has agreed to serve as the Principal Deputy of the Indian Health Service and will be delegated the responsibilities of the Director, effective today. As such, she will report directly to the Secretary and be responsible for the day to day operations of the IHS as well as our priority IHS initiatives. She will also work directly with Acting Deputy Secretary Mary Wakefield on the Executive Council on Quality focused on our critical work related to the Great Plains Area and making sustainable improvements for direct service tribes throughout Indian country.

Since joining IHS in October 2015, Mary has led a number of key agency priorities including providing leadership on the progress we have made in behavioral health, native youth initiatives, such as Generation Indigenous, and serving as the primary IHS liaison to other federal agencies. She has also made significant contributions to the progress we’ve made on contract support costs as well as in our work on Medicaid in states where expansion will be of particular benefit to Native Americans. Mary has significant management experience from her time working in federal and state government and in the private sector. Mary’s expertise on Native American issues and track record of delivering impact for the tribal community will undoubtedly be great assets to IHS as she assumes this new role. I am very pleased to have Mary serve as Principal Deputy, and look forward to working with her in her new role.

I also want to express my appreciation to Bob McSwain, who has diligently carried out the responsibilities of the Director since February 2015. Bob has requested to serve in another capacity within IHS to allow more time to be with his family. Bob, a member of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California, is a long time civil servant who began his federal career with the Indian Health Service in 1976. Bob has been a steward for IHS and committed to its mission of ensuring high quality comprehensive health services are available and accessible to American Indian and Alaska Native people across the United States. I appreciate Bob’s willingness to lead IHS during this important time.

Please join me in thanking Bob for his leadership and congratulating Mary on her new position.

Sylvia M. Burwell
Secretary

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