Texas Officials Call for Investigation Into ‘substantial' State Contract, Conduct of a DFPS Employee

AUSTIN – The state's top health official has called for an investigation into a "substantial" contract and to determine whether a state employee involved in awarding that contract to a private vendor violated ethics rules or state law, according to a document sent to several Texas lawmakers Thursday.The letter sent by Health and Human Services Commissioner Charles Smith, and obtained by The Dallas Morning News, implicates an unnamed employee of the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees the state's beleaguered foster care system and other social programs. The letter does not make clear which contract has been called into question, though Smith indicated it was a "substantial procurement." In addition to disclosing that he has asked HHSC Inspector General Stuart Bowen to investigate whether the "employee's actions compromised the integrity" of the contract, Smith asked members of a legislative panel to consider a fresh look at the commission's contracting process.This emerging contract foul up is the latest in a long string of contract woes at the commission and DFPS, the latest of which occurred in 2014 when a news report revealed that a $110 million Medicaid fraud contract awarded to Austin-tech company 21CT avoided competitive bidding and was brokered by a top HHSC official with ties to the company. Part of that contract was canceled, and sweeping reforms to state contracting were passed in 2015 as a result.Those reforms, however, may not have prevented issues with this contract, Smith's letter suggests. He asked the Sunset Advisory Commission, a special panel that makes tweaks and overhauls to state agencies, to take another look at how the state's largest bureaucracy does business with private companies."Although the Health and Human Services commission moved swiftly to implement the guidance and direction of the 84th Legislature, I feel compelled to ensure the system's course compliance," he wrote.The inspector general declined comment. Commission spokesman Bryan Black, citing the inspector general's inquiry, declined to provide details about the employee, the contract, its amount or other details. "The Health and Human Services system is committed to transparency and integrity. We appreciate the Inspector General's quick response to open an investigation to ensure all HHS system employees follow our strict procurement and contracting rules," he said in an email. "HHSC also looks forward to partnering with the Sunset Advisory Commission to review our new contracting procedures to make sure those protocols are protecting Texas taxpayers."The News contacted the offices of several members of the Sunset Advisory Commission, including Sen. Jane Nelson, who authored the contract reform bill that passed in 2015. Nelson's office declined comment.Check back for updates on this developing story.  Continue reading...

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