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The Brief: Feb. 4, 2015

The ability of Austin tech firm 21CT to secure a $20 million Medicaid fraud software contract through a no-bid program run by the state's Department of Information Resources drew intense scrutiny from Senate budget writers on Tuesday.

This is a photo of one of two $2800 chairs ordered by Jack Stick's office when he was deputy inspector general. The chairs which resemble the ones used in the Texas Legislature committee hearing rooms, were discovered after the resignations of Stick, and Doug Wilson, inspector general.

The Big Conversation

The ability of Austin tech firm 21CT to secure a $20 million Medicaid fraud software contract through a no-bid program run by the state's Department of Information Resources drew intense scrutiny from Senate budget writers on Tuesday.

The Tribune's Aman Batheja wrote: "Questions about whether the company had somehow secured a sweetheart deal and sidestepped competitive bidding rules have since led to forced resignations at HHSC, three investigations and a lawsuit. ... State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican ... said that the 21CT deal was indicative of a much larger problem, and that the state wasn’t meeting 'a basic level of competency' in its financial dealings. 'The state of Texas is listening to us, and we don’t sound like we’ve got it together here, folks,' Huffman said. 'I’m embarrassed.'”

Batheja also quoted Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson as indicating that contracting problems ran deeper than just at that one agency. “We’ve got serious contracting problems in many different agencies,” she said. “It’s out of control, and we are going to do something about it.”

Meanwhile, the Tribune's Terri Langford has the story of two $2,800 office chairs ordered by former HHSC General Counsel Jack Stick. The "quite nice chairs" have been orphaned after the resignation of Stick and Inspector General Doug Wilson. They left amid questions about the awarding of the 21CT fraud software contract. The agency, Langford reported, is fielding ideas on what to do with the chairs, which were purchased with taxpayer dollars.

"What's disappointing about this is the purchases were made by the office of inspector general," said HHSC spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman. "And I wonder if they (OIG) had gone out to one of our Medicaid providers, or contractors, who they were auditing and saw they had spent $2,800 on one chair, would they question that? We should hold ourselves to an even higher standard than we hold our providers to." 

The Day Ahead

•    The House convenes at 10 a.m.; the Senate convenes at 11 a.m.

•    Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols are expected to make a transportation announcement at noon or upon adjournment of the Senate.

•    Senate Finance continues the layout of the budget for agencies covered under the general government article. Agencies scheduled for today include the Texas Facilities Commission, the Public Finance Authority and the Commission on the Arts (E1.036); Senate Transportation holds an organizational meeting (E1.016); and Senate Health & Human Services will hear an overview of each major agency under the committee's purview (Senate Chamber)

•    Civil rights leader Julian Bond addresses the 19th Annual Barbara Jordan Forum at the LBJ School of Public Affairs on the UT-Austin campus. The event begins at noon.

Trib Must-Reads

Aggies, Longhorns on the Same Team for Higher Ed, by Ryan McCrimmon

Bills Require Warnings for Immigrants About Pleas, by Julián Aguilar

Echoes of Fights Past In Health Agency Consolidation, by Edgar Walters

Families Urge Support for Texting-While-Driving Ban, by Eva Hershaw

Sole Finalist for A&M President Chosen, by Jay Root

National Democrats Hungry for Gallego-Hurd Rematch, by Abby Livingston

Abbott Says Budget Must Include Business Tax Cuts, by Jay Root

Obama Recruits Texans to Help Sell Immigration Plan, by Julián Aguilar

Abbott Aide: Maintain Film Incentive Program Funding, by Aman Batheja

Texas Justices Renew Royalty Owner's Fraud Case, by Jim Malewitz

Lawmakers Propose Pre-K Incentive Payment System, by Morgan Smith


Cancer agency claims to have moved beyond scandals, San Antonio Express-News

Texas to appeal ruling regarding free tuition for veterans, Austin American-Statesman

Moody’s economists see recession for some Texas cities, not whole state, The Dallas Morning News

Don’t Look Now, but Oil Prices Are Rising, Foreign Policy

E.P.A. Says Pipeline Could Spur Emissions, The New York Times

Perry wants list of grand-jury witnesses, San Antonio Express-News

Fired 21CT lobbyist to be deposed over comments he made to Statesman, Austin American-Statesman

John Boehner calls out Ted Cruz, Jeff Sessions on immigration feud, Politico

Pot politics: 2016 GOP hopefuls on their past marijuana use, The Hill

Quote to Note

“I told you what I think about Texas. I wouldn’t live there for all the tea in China and that’s how I feel.”

— Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, after he called Texas "a crazy state" during a meeting of the Rules Committee. Texas House Republicans took umbrage to the remark, telling Hastings afterward in a joint statement, "Don't mess with Texas."

Today in TribTalk

Texting-while-driving ban is long overdue, by Tom Craddick

News From Home

As we follow bills on public ed during the 84th legislative session, we'll keep you updated on legislation addressing educator quality. Stay caught up with our 84th Lege page and subscribe to our Trib+Edu newsletter for more education news.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    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

•    Immigration: The Next Five Years on Feb. 27 at at the University of Texas at Brownsville

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

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Energy Environment Health care Higher education Politics Public education Dan Patrick Greg Abbott Jane Nelson Joan Huffman Judith Zaffirini Rick Perry Robert Nichols Ted Cruz Tom Craddick