OCR Director Leon Rodriguez’s departure would leave big void

A few federal government employees were put in position to play musical chairs of sorts this week and the potential upheaval would have a major impact on healthcare IT security in 2014. President Barack Obama nominated Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Director Leon Rodriguez to leave his position to fill Alejandro Mayorkas’s role as director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Editor’s note: Presidential nominations require Congressional approval, so nothing is official yet in regards to Rodriguez leaving OCR.

Mayorkas would move to No. 2 official in the USCIS’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security. Obama’s intentions to nominate Rodriguez as USCIS Director were announced on December 20, according to mainjustice.com. A source confirmed with HealthITSecurity.com that Rodriguez was nominated as USCIS director. However, there is no definitive timeline for the process and it may be a few months before Rodriguez actually leaves OCR. Rodriguez had been the OCR Director since 2011 and was previously Chief of Staff and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Justice Department.

This move clearly leaves myriad questions for OCR, especially in lieu of former advisor David Holtzman leaving OCR in November to join Cynergistek. Rodriguez has been the voice of OCR since 2011 and the go-to person when it comes to clarifying HIPAA compliance strategy and audit preparation best practices for healthcare providers. His departure creates problems for OCR in that it will be lacking that centralized figure as it prepares for much-discussed 2014 HIPAA audits. OCR still has plenty of smart, capable privacy and security professionals in its office left to handle these audits. But the loss of Holtzman and Rodriguez within the span of a few months can’t be understated.

Rodriguez’s successor?

Ironically, because of Holtzman’s heavy experience in the public and private sectors and his audit knowledge, he may have been a solid candidate for the OCR Director position. Where OCR goes from here will be interesting. Susan McAndrew, OCR’s Deputy Director for Health Information Privacy (HIP) and Security, would be a prime candidate. But Rodriguez’s successor will likely be appointed by Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as she did for Rodriguez.

The Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas nomination with a narrow 54-41 vote on December 20. The position has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since April.