Biden taps former Michigan health director Gordon for federal post

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — President Joe Biden intends to nominate Michigan's former health director to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the White House said on Wednesday.

Biden is tapping Robert Gordon to serve as assistant secretary for financial resources at the agency. 

Gordon abruptly resigned on Jan. 22 as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's director of the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services where he had led the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Gordon is currently senior counselor at the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities and senior adviser for Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, according to the White House. 

Robert Gordon is the former director of Michigan Health and Human Services. President Joe Biden intends to nominate him to serve as assistant secretary for financial resources at the agency, the White House said Wednesday.

Gordon was subpoenaed to testify in April before a state oversight hearing, where he seemed to be unclear about the specific reasons for the governor's decision, revealing she told him over video conference that it was time to go in a "new direction."

Gordon also said there were disagreements about elements of the state's reopening plans. The Detroit News previously reported he had advocated for a more cautious approach to reopening restaurants, according to email communications obtained through a public records request. 

GOP lawmakers have raised concerns about the $155,506 separation agreement that Whitmer's administration had with Gordon, saying it violated a constitutional provision barring "extra compensation" paid to any public officer after the person's "service has been rendered."

Gordon has said Whitmer's administration offered him the separation deal through the Michigan Attorney General's office, and the payment was "for entering the agreement." 

"It was made clear to me that the governor wanted to go in a new direction," Gordon said. "And I, as a public servant and an at-will employee, understood what that meant and resigned."

Gordon's separation deal became public in March as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests by The Detroit News.

Under the terms of the arrangement, Gordon got $155,506 in exchange for dropping any potential legal claims against the state and maintaining confidentiality about the circumstances that led to his departure. The payment represented nine months of salary and health benefits.

Whitmer has said little about Gordon's departure but stressed in March that "there were not any improprieties with Director Gordon’s work."

Gordon also drew criticism from Republican lawmakers for his executive orders related to the COVID-19 virus, as well as his agency's temporary ban on flavored vaping products that was overturned in the courts. 

Last year, Gordon helped with the transition to the new Biden administration, co-leading the agency review team for the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Gordon previously served as acting deputy director at the White House Office of Management and Budget under former President Barack Obama and also worked in policy development at the U.S. Department of Education. 

He also served as a senior official at the New York City Department of Education, spent time as a Capitol Hill staffer, clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and helped to create the AmeriCorps program as a White House aide, the White House said.

Gordon’s resume includes time as senior vice president for strategy and finance at the College Board and as a law guardian for children in abuse and neglect proceedings, according to his bio.

Staff writer Craig Mauger contributed.