U.S. Senate Confirms Darling As HHS Commissioner

Elizabeth “Liz” Darling, president and CEO of the OneStar Foundation in Austin, Texas, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate yesterday to a senior post in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Her confirmation had been blocked for months by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) but was confirmed by a 57-37 vote.

As commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, Darling will be the administration’s top child welfare official overseeing a budget that includes billions of dollars for foster care. Wyden, the top democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, had placed a hold on her nomination preventing it from going to a floor vote even though the committee narrowly approved her. It is rarely announced when a hold is lifted but Darling would not have been able to get a vote unless it had been.

A call to Wyden’s office was not returned. He was one of the 37 “no” votes yesterday, although he said he believed she was qualified for the job. Sources said he quietly lifted the block in July.

Darling referred calls to the HHS press office.

At the time he blocked it, Wyden said it was because he was upset with the Trump administration’s policy on foster care implemented in South Carolina. It allowed a federally funded, faith-based organization to place children only with Christian families. The policy was being carried out by an office that Darling will oversee.

Wyden said that his opposition to Darling was not personal. “I believe she is qualified for the position,” he said, but he voted against her because of the foster program policy. Wyden was quoted after yesterday’s vote by the Austin American-Statesman as saying: “At a time when there are too many vulnerable kids and too few safe foster homes in America, the Trump administration is allowing states to slam the door on qualified prospective foster parents because of their religious beliefs and sexual orientation. That’s not only unconstitutional, it’s bad for kids.”

It was the second time her nomination, initially made in March 2018, had been put in limbo. While the nomination came out of committee the first time, it did not get to the floor of the Senate. She was re-nominated earlier this year.

Before joining OneStar, Darling was chief operating officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) in Washington D.C., where she provided oversight and management of all CNCS’ national programs, including AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America, as well as the offices of Grants Policy and Operations, Leadership Development and Training and Emergency Management. In 2003, Darling was appointed to serve as deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, where she oversaw the Office of Planning and five administrations: Child Support Enforcement, Child Care, Social Services, Family Investment and Community Services.

She assumed the role of founding director of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at HHS in 2001. She coordinated the department’s efforts to identify and remove barriers to the participation of faith-based/community groups in accessing federal funds. She was later appointed Advisor on Presidential Initiatives to the Commissioner for the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF). In that capacity, she worked across the four Bureaus within ACYF – Head Start, Children’s Bureau, Child Care and Family and Youth Services – where she promoted numerous initiatives, including the President’s Early Childhood Literacy program Good Start, Grow Smart, as well as intergenerational programs and positive youth development.

In 1997, Texas Gov. George W. Bush appointed Darling to the board of the Texas Department of Human Services, where she later became vice chair with policy and program oversight for TANF, Food Stamps and Medicaid eligibility, as well as the regulation of long-term care facilities for the elderly and disabled. Darling chairs the Interagency Coordinating Group (ICG) formed under H.B. 1965 (R82) comprised of 25 state agencies.

A graduate of Baylor University, Darling holds a certificate in Nonprofit Leadership and Management. She was credentialed as a Certified Association Executive (CAE) in June 2014 and received the designation of Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) in March 2015.