New Mexico’s Youngsters’s Fund strives for technological and cultural change

The laid-off workers said a culture of punishing dissent threatens an update to the agency’s data system, essential for federal funding, and exacerbated a recent PR crisis over the use of the encrypted messaging app.

Debra Gilmore was the director of the Children’s Rights Office until she was fired on May 6, along with her husband, Cliff, who served as the agency’s spokesman. The searchlight New Mexico investigative reporting website first reported the Gilmores’ firing.

She said the department reprimanded her for “failing to develop productive and professional working relationships,” including project managers charged with updating the agency’s child care information system, a database that is used to operate and meet the New Mexico care system Requirements for data reporting by the federal government is essential.

Debra Gilmore said the project managers were upset because she pushed them to consider the project’s sprawling scope and nebulous deadlines.

“I just couldn’t get a satisfactory answer to the how – how do we do it?” said Gilmore, an attorney and certified project manager with decades of experience in social work project management.

Cliff Gilmore said he raised concerns about using the Signal app, which in some conversations was set to delete messages every 24 hours.

The department eventually stopped using the app entirely after a report from Searchlight New Mexico exposed the practice and fueled criticism of the possibility of public records being destroyed.

“Our office is pleased that CYFD has discontinued use of the app and we are reviewing that the agency is complying with laws and best practices for the retention of public information,” said Matt Baca, spokesman for the New Mexico Attorney General Office.

Cliff Gilmore said he and his wife were aggressively recruited by the Child Protection Agency last year for their extensive experience, including decades of serving as spokesman for the military overseeing a team of 65 press officers who oversaw a 55,000-strong Navy force .

The couple say Debra Gilmore was hired in December because of decades of experience in government and non-governmental organizations, including serving as the director of an organization promoting care in Oregon.

“I had never been in a room until then and if I said, ‘I think we have a problem here,’ the answer would be anything but ‘OK, tell me more’,” he said. “But I got: ‘Oh, you’re new, you don’t understand.’ ”

Instead, he said his advice not to use the Signal app and auto-delete feature was ignored, even though the agency eventually stopped using the app.

The department denied almost every aspect of the couple’s report of problems at the agency.

“What the Gilmores have and claim is ill-informed and is not based on experience or expertise regarding the New Mexico state government, state procurement laws, state IPRA and record-keeping laws, or most importantly, CYFD’s technological requirements.” said spokesman Charlie Moore -Pabst said. “It is unfortunate that, in your very short time in the NM administration, you have chosen to criticize the CYFD’s operations without any facts or understanding of New Mexico law.”

The agency has had problems in the past with employees claiming they retaliated.

“We greet whistleblowers, we greet lawyers and demand letters. We welcome every opportunity to improve the CYFD, ”said Blalock in an interview on May 17th. “There’s a tension between being whistleblowing and having an employee who just isn’t working.”

The department has stated that the technology upgrade is key to meeting federal requirements, both for efficient case management and for organizing and sending data to the federal government and the public. However, the department announced that the next round of software upgrades is on schedule.

According to a recent IT project status report from the Legislative Finance Committee for the first quarter of fiscal 2021, the $ 44.9 million project experienced delays in approving federal funds, threatening the budget. Of nine government IT projects reviewed, the department for children, adolescents and families was most at risk of failure.

The current system makes it difficult for the department to report the required data to the federal government and hinders public access. When The Associated Press tried to compile a 50-state survey among a dozen indicators of child well-being, New Mexico was one of 14 states that did not provide the data within weeks and for free.

Debra Gilmore said the software project cannot improve case management without answering the tough questions she believes are disciplined. “I am concerned because it is an opportunity to tailor the next generation of software to meet the needs of the children and families that will be served,” she said.

Cliff Gilmore added that he would expect policies that address communication between employees and data to be clearly written and publicly available, but this does not appear to be the case.

While Blalock has stated that the agency has policies and procedures in place to prevent the destruction of records that should be kept, the department confirmed that there are no official guidelines specifically for using Signal. Nor is there a whistleblower protection guide based solely on state law.

Moore-Pabst said the department recently updated its retaliation policy despite focusing more on employees participating in formal investigations than dissenting views.

On May 25, the department began offering drop-in training on whistleblowing ethics, which is optional for executives and required for certain case workers.


Attanasio is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national service program that provides journalists with local newsrooms to report on untapped topics. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.


This story corrects the location of a Debra Gilmore-led Nursing organization.

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