The Brief: Jan. 23, 2015

More news reports are highlighting growing questions about 21CT's activity at various state agencies.

The Big Conversation

Questions continue to swirl around 21CT, the Austin technology firm in the spotlight due to its being awarded a no-bid Medicaid fraud detection contract. Here's a rundown on the latest reporting:

Aman Batheja, The Texas Tribune: "The Texas secretary of state’s office confirmed Thursday that it is maintaining a contract signed in 2012 with 21CT, also known as 21st Century Technologies Inc., for information technology security services ... The initial contract signed in August 2012 paid 21CT $167,000 for information technology security software and one year of maintenance and support ... The secretary of state’s office signed the contract with 21CT approximately four months before HHSC signed its first purchase order with the company, $20 million for Medicaid fraud detection software."

Brian M. Rosenthal, Houston Chronicle: "Hindered by a lack of experience, among other factors, the local technology company placed 35th out of 60 applicants in the initial evaluation for potential approval under the type of software it offered ... Then, in March 2012, as officials at the state Department of Information Resources neared decisions about which companies to approve, 21CT hired as its new president Frederick Chang, who then was serving on an unpaid advisory board to the department. ... Lawmakers ... say the revelations about another level of connections for the small Austin firm add still more questions to the ongoing scandal"

J. David McSwane, Austin American-Statesman: "At the same time that Texas lawmakers are calling for more transparency at the state’s sprawling Health and Human Services Commission, officials there effectively have blocked the flow of public records that could provide answers to questions surrounding an unfolding contract scandal. ... The commission has claimed that more than a dozen of the Statesman’s record requests are exempt from release and referred the requests to the Texas attorney general’s office for a final decision. In its broad denial to several news outlets, the commission said the records are exempt from public disclosure because they are a part of investigations."

Trib Must-Reads

A Debate Over Fracking and Local Control, by Alana Rocha and Justin Dehn

Analysis: Out of Office, but Not Finished With Politics, by Ross Ramsey

A Deeper Look Inside the State Budget, by Ben Philpott

Fired TCEQ Investigator: Law Firm Triggered Dismissal, by Neena Satija and Jim Malewitz

Carson: Don't Talk ACA Repeal Without Alternative Plan, by Edgar Walters

Abbott Announces Appointees to University System Boards, by Reeve Hamilton

Elsewhere

Ethics Commission: No ‘indication’ MQS resides in Denton County, San Antonio Express-News

Pension woes facing Texas lawmakers, Houston Chronicle

Informant who helped feds indict S.A. judge is gunned down, San Antonio Express-News

Koch-backed network pulls back curtain on gathering of wealthy donors, Washington Post

Ethics Complaint Filed Against Louie Gohmert, Roll Call

Socialite Joanne Herring may get a Congressional Gold Medal, Houston Chronicle

Quote to Note

“No, but I think I would do pretty well. I know the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. I know World War II was started Dec. 7, 1941. I know what the Civil War was fought over.”

— State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, when asked if he's taken a civics exam. The Poles might be a little surprised by his answer on the middle one. The lawmaker has authored legislation based on a bill enacted in Arizona requiring all high school students to pass a civics exam to graduate.

Today in TribTalk

Inside Patrick's inside game, by Jim Henson and Joshua Blank

News From Home

As our reporters follow issues involving the state budget and taxes during the 84th legislative session, they'll keep a close eye on efforts to reduce property taxes. You can stay updated on this and other issues during the session using our 84th Lege page.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    Higher Ed: The Next Five Years on Jan. 26 at the Texas Tech University Alumni Center in Lubbock

•    A Conversation With Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Jan. 27 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation With Adm. William McRaven, UT System Chancellor on Feb. 5 at The Austin Club

•    Houston & the Legislature: Previewing the 84th Session on Feb. 12 at the Wortham Center in Houston

•    A Conversation With U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro on Feb. 19 at The Austin Club

•    Meet the Mayors: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price on March 12 at The Austin Club