Top spokesman at embattled DHHS to depart

01/08/2014 11:06 AM

08/05/2014 6:51 PM

The communications director at the embattled Department of Health and Human Services is departing his post this month to take a new top-level position with a Washington political consulting firm.

Ricky Diaz is taking a vice president post at Fifty Plus One (FP1) Strategies, a top-tier Republican firm that specializes in political advertising and communications.

“It was an opportunity that presented itself and one that I can’t pass up,” Diaz said in an interview Wednesday. “I just wanted to get back into politics, and this gives me the opportunity to work on campaigns around the country.”

Diaz, 24, said his departure is not related to the repeated controversies plaguing the McCrory administration’s state health agency. Democratic lawmakers and critics are calling for Secretary Aldona Wos’ ouster after the agency acknowledged sending nearly 50,000 children’s insurance cards with personal information to the wrong addresses, a violation of federal privacy laws.

It’s just the latest episode to put Wos – and by the nature of his job, Diaz – in an uncomfortable spotlight. Wos’ tenure has been marked with numerous high-profile blunders in the past seven months that led to delays in Medicaid claim payments and food stamp delivery.

Wos’ hire of Diaz at an $85,000 salary generated its own criticism last year from state lawmakers who questioned the substantial salaries Diaz and another 24-year-old former McCrory campaign worker received given their qualifications. McCrory came to Diaz’s defense, saying he was “very well qualified” and the pay rate fit the job.

Diaz began working in McCrory’s successful campaign in 2012 as press secretary and joined the new administration the next year as a deputy communications director in the governor’s office before moving to DHHS. The job put Diaz in the limelight often as he defended his boss from criticism and employed a campaign-style approach pushing the agency’s message.

In a statement Wednesday, Wos praised Diaz for his service.

“Ricky is a bright, energetic leader and a strong communicator,” she said. “I thank him for his hard work and dedication, and his efforts to increase the efficiency and streamline the operations of the Office of Communications. His work will leave a lasting impression on the Department.”

Diaz, who graduated from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, previously worked for Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican.

Diaz said the governor was supportive of his career move. “I really enjoyed my time in North Carolina,” Diaz said.

His last day at DHHS is Jan. 24. He starts his new position at the beginning of February.

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