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DeSantis names former DMS head, IBM lobbyist to lead state child welfare agency

Chad Poppell, a former secretary of the Department of Management Services, has lobbied for IBM since 2017.

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis has named Chad Poppell the new head of the Department of Children and Families, putting the former state workforce agency leader and lobbyist in charge of the long-troubled state's child welfare arm.

The Department of Children and Families, which has been led by interim secretary Rebecca Kapusta since September, has in recent years struggled to retain its leaders. Before former secretary Mike Carroll stepped down last fall, he had been the third leader in a year to take over DCF's reins when he was tapped for the role in 2014.

That year, a Miami Herald investigation had detailed the deaths of 477 children since 2008, even though their families had dealt with the agency in the past. During Carroll's four-year tenure, the agency continued to deal with several high-profile cases, particularly those involving the deaths of vulnerable children.

Poppell, a former secretary of the Department of Management Services, has past experience in state and local government but little in child welfare. He led DMS, which supports other agencies with workforce and business-related functions, until 2017 and previously served as chief of staff in the state's Department of Economic Opportunity.

Poppell also worked as director of employee services at JEA, Jacksonville's public electric water and sewer utility, and the City of Jacksonville's chief of human resources, according to a press release from DeSantis' transition team.

After he resigned from DMS in 2017, he joined IBM, and according to state records registered to lobby the executive branch in 2017 and 2018 for the company.

IBM has gotten several contracts with DCF in the past few years, largely for database management system software, according to a state database of contracts with agencies.

The largest contract, which dates back to 2012 for a total amount of more than $90 million, tasks IBM with providing "ongoing maintenance and operations" of the Florida Safe Families Network system, a web application hosted in the agency's intranet, as well as other project work.