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Six-Month Job Swap for CSAP, CMHS Leaders

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News Analysis

How interchangeable are federal agency directors? SAMHSA is about to find out: under a rather surprising work-study initiative, the heads of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) and the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) are about to swap jobs.

And not for a week or two, either. Effective July 16, CMHS Kathryn Powers will take over CSAP for six months — with “full authority and responsibility” for her new position — while CSAP head Fran Harding will take the reins at CMHS.

In a June 22 memo to staff, SAMHSA administrator Pamela Hyde said the boss-swap — the first under the agency’s new “Executive Exchange” program — would give Powers and Harding an “opportunity to both gain and share knowledge with staff members that they otherwise do not work with directly.

“And in so doing they will gain experience with mental-health treatment and policy issues and substance-abuse prevention and policy issues respectively that will make both of them better leaders and collaborators,” according to Hyde.

Conspiracy theorists might suggest that all this has something to do with rumored agency mergers at SAMHSA — a suspicion Hyde is quite aware of. “Lest you be concerned let me assure you that no Center reorganization will occur because of this Executive Exchange Program,” she wrote. But it wouldn’t hurt, either, and all this talk of the two centers “broadening their perspective” could be interpreted in any number of ways.

I guess I’m supposed to applaud this move as a sign of administrative flexibility and dedication to professional development, but frankly it all strikes me as a little weird. Given the vetting that supposedly takes place in picking these officials, I’m a little disturbed that they can so easily be pulled out of one job and plugged into another. What does it say for the value of the position or the seriousness of the work at CMHS or CSAP if we’re to expect that six months of on-the-job training won’t have any negative impact whatsoever?

Join Together News Editor Bob Curley has been writing about alcohol and other drug policy, treatment, prevention and research since 1991.

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