For months now advocates for some of the state’s most vulnerable populations have been on pins and needles waiting for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s nomination of a new Commissioner of Social Services. By Tuesday morning the wait was over when Malloy nominated Roderick Bremby.

The Connecticut Department of Social Services is in charge of one of the biggest portions of the budget and administers services to the state’s most vulnerable populations, which makes Malloy’s nomination of Bremby Tuesday significant.

Malloy said the biggest challenge the department faces is development of a new information technology system to handle applications for its various programs and “Rod’s leadership and experience will help us streamline the agency to deliver services to people who are depending on them the most.”

“We’re very excited about new leadership,“ Jane McNichol, executive director of the Connecticut Legal Resource Center of Connecticut, said Tuesday. “Mostly, we’re excited about the fact that he has expertise and experience converting systems.” She said there‘s backlogs in virtually all of the programs the department administers. She said the nutrition assistance program, which has received some news coverage, is just the most egregious.

“There needs to be a new sense of mission and a renewed commitment to the people the agency serves,” McNichol said. “There needs to be leadership at the top.”

Malloy was also attracted to Bremby for his relationship with a former Kansas governor.

Appointed in 2003 by then-Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who now serves as the head of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, Bremby served for eight years as that state’s head of the Department of Health and Environment.

If confirmed by the Connecticut legislature, Bremby will play a key role in implementing federal health care reform, which makes his relationship with Sebelius beneficial for the state, which is competing for federal dollars to implement the exchanges.

Many of the programs Bremby’s department administers need the approval of the federal government. But even more importantly the department needs to update its information technology systems which date back to 1989.

Bremby said the clients expect the information to be processed in a much more timely manner than ever before and information technology is hugely important in the task.

Connecticut’s DSS budget which is estimated around $6 billion next fiscal year, is much bigger than the $230 million budget Bremby administered as the head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment where he oversaw the implementation of several changes aimed at improving efficiency, such as paperless purchasing systems and web-based data collection. 

According to news accounts Bremby left his job in Kansas this past November after being dismissed by then-Gov. Mark Parkinson, who seemed concerned with Bremby’s previous denial of a permit for a controversial coal-fired power plant. The permit was coming up again for approval and was approved by Bremby’s successor.

Bremby, who as a young boy in Alabama helped to integrate a public school system in a segregated era, said at he’s no stranger to controversy, difficult decisions, or challenging life circumstances.

“I’ve had some life challenges, life circumstances that I think I can empathize with many of our clients,“ Bremby said. He said his 2007 personal bankruptcy based on a large amount of medical debt he shared with his wife was a “humbling experience.” He has since been divorced and remarried.

In Kansas Bremby was in charge of regulating everything from day cares to oil spills, but his job in Connecticut will be more focused on the administration of the Medicaid, cash assistance for the poor, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), child care subsidies, nursing home regulation, and winter heating aid. The department administers, coordinates, plans, delivers, and funds 90 health and human service program for children, youth, families, adults, elderly, and the disabled.

More than one million individuals are assisted by DSS programs.

He said his agency in Kansas did not administer that state’s Medicaid programs, but he was a member of the governing authority that did.