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Steven Cohen’s no politician–but that might actually be what got him his new job.

The master bureaucrat–veteran of the city child welfare agency and children’s advocacy organizations–just got hired as staff director for a new panel charged with reforming the city Administration for Children’s Services. And according to advocates and good government types, Cohen, with a reputation as a smart, dedicated administrator, is exactly the man for the job.

The panel was formed out of last month’s settlement of the Marisol case, a lawsuit that aimed to put ACS in receivership. The four-member panel charged with analyzing the agency on five topics from top to bottom, then recommending reforms. And since none of the appointees are in New York City, Cohen, with his local experience, will be their eyes and ears.

“For him, it’s not about politics, it’s about results,” said Gail Nayowith, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children, who has used Cohen as a consultant. “He’s a trusted advisor.”

The panel has already come up with one draft report, and plans to have a study of foster care placements done by April. For the remainder of the year, said panelist John Mattingly, the group will produce three reports every six to eight weeks. In 2000, the group will start monitoring the agency as it works through their suggestions.

Two years from now, the panel will either give the agency a clean bill of health or turn over its testimony to Children Rights, the children’s advocates that started the Marisol suit.

From his experience with the city, Cohen predicts the hardest part of his job will be keeping ACS and advocates, who are often harsh opponents, communicating with each other. “It’s not so much politics as diplomacy,” he said. “It’s hard to be looked at by an outside monitor.”

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