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ANTI-BUREAUCRAT JUMPS INTO HUMAN SERVICES POST

Rod Betit is not your typical bureaucrat. If a meeting runs too long, he's apt to gather his notes and leave. When he says he's not a strategic planner, but a strategic doer, he's not joking.

Those traits may be the ones that lead Gov. Mike Leavitt to appoint him executive director of the Department of Human Services, in addition to his duties as executive director of the Department of Health. The dual directorship comes during what appears to be the most challenging time in recent memory for human-needs programs.Both departments are gearing up to deal with Congress' proposal to give states block grants to design their own safety-net programs. As many as 336 existing state programs may fall under block grants if Congress passes them.

Betit and Leavitt agree it's an exciting time because Utah will be able to start from scratch in designing programs. And the new appointment assures the two depart-ments won't work at cross purposes.

Betit says he just doesn't have the patience to talk a problem to death; once he's identified it, he's apt to leave others to the discussion while he sets about implementing a solution.

His problem-solving skills served him well in Alaska, where he spent 19 years in public-health administration. During 11 of those years, he was also responsible for all Alaska human-service programs.

Not bad for a guy who doesn't have a college degree - a subject on which Betit doesn't hedge. The first line of his resume cites "three years of college education interrupted by military service."

He was going to college when he was drafted. When his tour in Vietnam ended, he had to make some decisions.

"I could leave Alaska and head out to where I could go to a four-year school. Or I could take the opportunity to help a new state government (Alaska had been a state for a mere decade) get together to do what it should do."

He chose to delve into government work. When he thought about going back to school, "someone would throw something else on my plate. I didn't have the time. I knew it would limit me as I moved around the country."

Hardly.

Following his success in Alaska, Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, then state Health Department director, asked him to run Utah's Division of Health Care Financing, which manages medical-assistance programs like Medicaid. He said he'd do it for a couple of years - planning to finish his degree at the same time. In 1987 he came to Utah with his wife, Ellen, who teaches sixth grade at Oakdale Elementary School, son Kyle and daughters Heather and Renee.

Since then, Betit has been offered the job of Denver regional deputy director of U.S. Health and Human Services. He turned it down because "I was convinced they had no influence policywise and they just harassed states."

Betit told former Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan he thought the country needed a national Medicaid chief. He was offered the job. "It would have been the ideal thing to do, but I spent time there and saw they had it all set in concrete how they wanted it done. That did a lot to neutralize potential."

What, Sullivan asked, did he want? "Your job," he replied, half in jest.

Instead, he succeeded Dandoy in 1992 as interim health director. And the Legislature eliminated requirements that the position be filled by a physician so he could keep the job.

He thinks he'll stick around a while, as long as he can escape at least once a year back to Alaska to "get the big-salmon fishing urge out of my bloodstream."

And that pesky college degree? "I have real mixed feelings about it." Soon, he'll be the only one in his family without one. His wife and Kyle have theirs. Heather is working on hers. And he has no doubt Renee will pursue a degree as well.

"Maybe I'm not a bad example to people who don't have a degree that there are opportunities out there. The reality is, the business I've been in, running entitlement services and health-care benefits, there's no academic training on point. There's certainly no training on Medicaid and Health Care Financing.

"It's rolling up your sleeves and going to work in that environment. I think I've been able to learn and do over the years and developed a style that works and gets things done and hasn't co-opted me in terms of my thinking."

And that, in the end, is what he demands of his employees, as well.

"I see what needs to be done, and I have ideas about how it should occur. I seek out ideas, but I get impatient sitting around talking about stuff. I may approach things differently because I'm not tied to a bureaucracy approach. I use people as I think they can best contribute. I like to give people an opportunity to spread their wings, show what they can do and take the lead on projects without having ultimate responsibility for them. It's challenging and fun."

A number of his employees in the Department of Health agree. One called it a "breath of fresh air." Another said "the day goes fast."

Ross Martin, Health Department spokesman, describes it this way: "He tells you what needs to be done. You should do it."