Get to Know the Cabinet Members: Dennis G. Smith & Ben Brancel

Gov. Scott Walker’s weekly e-update includes a segment called “Get to Know a Cabinet Member” that highlights a cabinet secretary and provides a brief overview of the department he or she oversees. The Governor’s goal in presenting this information is to provide the public with practical information about state government operations, especially as we head into the next budget cycle.

Dennis G. Smith – Department of Health Services (DHS)

Dennis G. Smith was appointed by Governor Scott Walker to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health Services (DHS) on January 3, 2011.

The Department of Health Services is committed to the mission of economic prosperity and quality of life for the people of Wisconsin. The Department administers an array of services, including, regulation and licensing of health care facilities, Medicaid services, long-term care services, mental health services, services for people with development and physical disabilities, services for low-income seniors, as well as children and youth services. DHS also includes programs that address environmental and occupational health, family and community health, emergency medical services and injury prevention, chronic disease prevention and health promotion, and communicable diseases. DHS has a biennial budget of $18 billion. DHS also has 5,574 employees around the state to administer quality care for the residents of Wisconsin.

DHS also operates three centers for individuals with developmental disabilities: the Northern Wisconsin Center, the Central Wisconsin Center, and the Southern Wisconsin Center. All of the centers provide residential care and treatment, short term care, evaluation and diagnosis, and identifies supports in the community so the individual can live and succeed in the community of their choice.

The Department operates four mental health facilities throughout the state: Mendota Mental Health Institute, Winnebago Mental Health Institute, Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center, and the Wisconsin Resource Center. Together, DHS and local community mental health departments are able to provide care and rehabilitation for people with mental illness and substance abuse problems.

Secretary Smith previously served as Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Secretaries Tommy G. Thompson and Michael O. Leavitt. Smith served on various staff positions in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. In previous state roles, he also served as Medicaid Director for the Commonwealth of Virginia and as Chief of Planning for the California Department of Developmental Services.

Smith has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from George Mason University and completed his undergraduate work at Illinois State University. Smith and his wife, Laurel, have four daughters.

Ben Brancel – Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP)

When I was elected Governor, I knew I wanted Ben Brancel in my cabinet. Ben is a long time dairy farmer, he served in the Wisconsin State Assembly and worked for the UW-Madison’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Ben is known and respected in Wisconsin’s agriculture industry. He even previously served as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) under Governor Tommy Thompson.

Ben has done a great job overseeing DATCP’s diverse responsibilities. From monitoring fair business practices to educating consumers to ensuring proper use of agricultural resources, Ben and his staff work to assure healthy plants and animals, food safety, and the vitality of Wisconsin agriculture, which is a $59 billion industry in the state.

One of Ben’s priorities is updating the agency’s technology to an online system, which will improve customer service and be more efficient. His team is also working with Wisconsin businesses to provide the tools needed to succeed in the international marketplace. During the first three quarters of 2012, the state’s agricultural exports reached $2.2 billion, a four percent increase over the same period in 2011.

Earlier this year, I announced the Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30×20 Initiative, which was developed by Ben and dairy industry leaders. Through this initiative, we hope to grow the state’s milk production to 30-billion pounds by 2020. Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30×20 is the result of listening to what the state’s dairy industry leaders had to say about the supply and demand for fresh Wisconsin milk. The initiative underscores the need for fresh, quality milk production and processing in Wisconsin and our commitment to the future of America’s Dairyland.

Ben and his wife, Gail, continue to live on his family’s farm in Marquette County, which is owned by his son and daughter-in-law, Tod and Sondra, the sixth consecutive generation to farm the land. His family now raises registered Angus and Hereford beef cattle.