Tommy George Thompson (born November 19, 1941) is the current and 19th United States Secretary of Health and Human Services. Born in Elroy, Wisconsin, where his father ran a gas station and country grocery store, Secretary Thompson has served most recently as the 42nd Governor of Wisconsin being elected to an unprecedented four terms, serving from 1987 to 2001 upon his appointment by President George W. Bush as Health and Human Services Secretary. Secretary Thompson began his career in public service in 1966 as a representative in the Wisconsin State Assembly, after he finished law school at the University of Wisconsin.
During his nearly 14 years as governor of Wisconsin, Thompson was notable for his Wisconsin Works and school choice programs. In 1990, Thompson enacted the nation's first parental school choice program, allowing low-income Milwaukee families to send children to the private or public school of their choice.
Enacted in 1996, Wisconsin Works, or "W-2," was the state's welfare-to-work legislation, which served as a national model for welfare reform. The program required participants to work, while at the same time providing services and support intended to make the transition to work feasible and permanent. W-2 provided assistance through childcare, health care, transportation and employment-related training. Wisconsin's monthly welfare caseload declined by more than 90 percent, while the economic status of those taking part in W-2 was reported to have improved. The average family on Wisconsin's Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) had been 30 percent below the federal poverty line. However, at the average wage of people leaving W-2, families were 30 percent above the poverty line.
In his first term as governor, Thompson found his office in the unlikely position of taking both sides in the Wisconsin Walleye War. Thompson was ordered by a federal court to provide protection for tribal fishing expeditions, even while the state continued to oppose the expeditions in court. Kennecott Copper Company successfully won Wisconsin's only modern metal-mining permit under Thompson's first administration. An advocate of industrial development, Thompson appointed former Exxon lobbiest James Klauser as his first secretary of administration, while Exxon was attempting to win a permit to mine copper upstream from the Menominee Reservation, which opposed the project. Eventually, under pressure for northern residents, tribal interests and environmentalists state wide, Thompson signed a migning moratorium that delayed any further permits until a similar mine had proven able to comply with the state's reclamation laws.
As Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary Thompson launched initiatives to strengthen the nation's preparedness for a bioterrorism attacks, increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, reorganize the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to encourage greater responsiveness and efficiency, and clear the backlog of waivers and state plan amendments, approving 1,400 and thereby provide health insurance to 1.8 million lower-income Americans throughout the nation.
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