Carol Olson has been the director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services since 1997.
"I'm the longest serving director of human services in the nation -- so far," said Olson.
In 1997, she was Governor Ed Schafer’s chief of staff. Olson says there were some problems in the Department, and she was asked to take over. She says she didn’t expect to serve for 15 years. But now, after 15 years, Olson is retiring.
Olson says in her time, the Department has become more efficient. She says there is less top-down bureaucracy now. And Olson says there has been a move away from institutional services – at the state Hospital and the state Developmental Center– and into community-based programs. She also says the Department has had success in keeping the elderly out of nursing homes until they really need to be there.
"All of that has been accomplished through a focus on the client, and what's best for the client," said Olson. "And what's best for the client is being able to serve that client closest to home, in the community, as opposed to in an institution. That is what we have focused on."
Olson also says she’s proud of her department’s efforts in child support collection. She says North Dakota is now one of the leading states in terms of money collected from parents who owe that support.
As to how she kept at it for 15 years?
"Tenacity, patience and passion," said Olson. "If you don't have the passion, you can't do this job. You can't forget why you're here. It's to serve the vulnerable people who don't have a voice, who don't have anybody lobbying for them. But you also have to remember that it's taxpayer dollars, too."
Olson also credits her staff with making things work over the 15 years.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple says Olson will be missed.
"Experience is always valuable in state government administration," said Dalrymple. "We think Carol Olson has done an outstanding job, and that kind of knowledge is hard to replace."
Dalrymple says he will look inside state government first, to see if there is someone who can do the job. He says that might expand to the outside as well.
Olson will be moving to Colorado, to be closer to her children and grandchildren. Her last day is Aug. 17.