"Stick's Investigators Got Badges, and Taxpayers Got the $36,000 Bill" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Gone are the sales quota-like performance standards imposed by Jack Stick, the embattled former general counsel of Texas' Health and Human Services Commission. And the agency is still debating what to do with the $2,800 black leather executive chair he left behind.
But emblems of Stick’s days as the agency's deputy inspector general remain: roughly 300 high-dollar badges he designed and ordered for his investigators at a cost to taxpayers of $36,000.
Though some of those employees, who are charged with uncovering waste, fraud and abuse for the agency, already carried badges, Stick and his then-chief of staff ordered the new badges in 2013 after some investigators complained that their old ones “were not taken serious enough by providers or potential witnesses,” Stick wrote in an email to The Texas Tribune.
“The old badges were small, coin-shaped badges that lacked the appearance of official state business,” Stick wrote.
To correct this, Stick designed new badges that resembled law enforcement badges, with an eagle sitting atop the "Texas Inspector General" insignia and a golden state seal.
But replacing the investigators' badges, which had been in use for about a decade, wasn’t cheap. Each new badge cost $80. Custom leather cases for identifications cards cost $18. And some employees also received custom badge holders that cost another $16, according to agency invoices obtained by the Tribune.
The previous agency badges were worth anywhere from $32.45 to $59.95, health commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said. By comparison, badges for the Department of Public Safety’s highway patrol cost approximately $27 each, a department spokesman said.
Stick was asked to resign in December amid a probe into the agency's contracting procedures and a $20 million fraud-tracking software contract awarded to 21CT, an Austin tech firm, that didn't go through a competitive bidding process. His former chief of staff, Cody Cazares, was placed on indefinite administrative leave in January to guard against any conflict of interest during the state auditor’s investigation into contracting.
Stick said he ordered the badges at the direction of his former boss, then-Inspector General Doug Wilson. The badges, which were designed to resemble those of federal health fraud investigators, were considered a “multi-year investment,” Stick said.
“Those unfamiliar with law enforcement processes might characterize this as an unnecessary expense,” Stick said. “For investigators going into potentially dangerous situations, and for the people they contact, it is critical both parties be able to rely on identification and apparent authority to conduct the investigation.”
Wilson, who resigned under pressure in December, could not be reached for comment. In September 2013, Wilson presented U.S. Sen. John Cornyn with his own “special badge,” thanking him for his support of the agency's investigators.
Despite the high-profile departures, the new badges will remain in use for now; the inspector general's office purchased two more badges in January, according to invoices. There are currently 291 employees carrying the new badges, but it will be up to the incoming inspector general, Stuart Bowen Jr., to decide whether the agency will keep them, Goodman said. Bowen has yet to be confirmed by the Texas Senate.
“We would expect the decisions to be made in our [office of inspector general] to be cost-effective and be cognizant that every dollar we spend is a taxpayer dollar,” Goodman said of the badge purchases.