CPS of­fi­cial on leave in con­tract flap

Fri­anita Wil­son off duty again; probe in­volves hus­band’s non­profit.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Chang and An­drea Ball jchang@states­man.com aball@states­man.com

The pur­chas­ing di­rec­tor at Child Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices has been placed on leave as of­fi­cials launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a “sub­stan­tial” pend­ing con­tract in­volv­ing a non­profit where the di­rec­tor’s hus­band works, the Amer­i­can-States­man has learned.

It’s the sec­ond time Fri­anita Wil­son has been placed on leave amid con­tract ques­tions. She was a fig­ure in the 21CT con­tract­ing scan­dal, which led to the res­ig­na­tions of her hus­band, Doug Wil­son, for­mer in­spec­tor gen­eral of the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion, and for

mer agency Chief Coun­sel Jack Stick, among oth­ers.

Fri­anita Wil­son con­tin­ued to be paid her an­nual $100,000 salary while on a year­long ad­min­is­tra­tive leave, start­ing in De­cem­ber 2014, as of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gated her role in procur­ing a con­tract with Austin data and an­a­lyt­ics firm 21CT. She was even­tu­ally cleared of any wrong­do­ing.

Doug Wil­son told the States­man on Fri­day that his wife had done noth­ing wrong and that she had dis­closed to the com­mis­sion that he works for a non­profit that deals with res­i­den­tial child care. He said that the non­profit hasn’t been awarded a con­tract and that his wife’s job du­ties don’t in­clude con­tract pro­cure­ment.

He said that the com­mis­sion un­fairly tar­geted his wife and him in the 21CT af­fair and that com­mis­sion of­fi­cials are do­ing it again. Other agency of­fi­cials have gone to work for non­prof­its re­ceiv­ing con­tracts from the De­part­ment of Fam­ily and Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices, which over­sees CPS, with­out the same scru­tiny he has re­ceived, Doug Wil­son said.

“Once again, my wife and I are be­ing placed un­der­neath a cloud of sus­pi­cion. We’re not pleased by it,” Wil­son said. “This time, my wife and I are not go­ing to take this sit­ting down. We’re tired of be­ing picked on.”

A memo ad­dressed to Fri­anita Wil­son that was pro­vided by the de­part­ment said that she was placed on emer­gency leave Thurs­day and she was con­sid­ered to be on “al­ter­na­tive work as­sign­ment” un­til fur­ther no­tice.

She isn’t al­lowed to ac­cess her work com­puter or con­tact the em­ploy­ees who re­port to her un­less she’s in­structed to do so by her bosses, the memo said.

De­part­ment of Fam­ily and Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment on the case.

Fri­anita Wil­son was put on leave the first time after sign­ing off on a $452,000 deal with 21CT to help the De­part­ment of Fam­ily and Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices track child abuse in­ves­ti­ga­tions. That deal was can­celed in the wake of the scan­dal, which cen­tered on a sep­a­rate $20 mil­lion con­tract with 21CT to help de­tect Med­i­caid fraud. A $90 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion with the com­pany was can­celed in De­cem­ber 2014 after a States­man in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed prob­lems with the deal, in­clud­ing the lack of a tra­di­tional bid­ding process, lit­tle over­sight and a pos­si­ble con­flict of in­ter­est.

State health Com­mis­sioner Charles Smith on Thurs­day sent a let­ter in­form­ing law­mak­ers of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a “sub­stan­tial pro­cure­ment” that hadn’t been awarded.

The con­tract process has been halted while the Of­fice of the In­spec­tor Gen­eral — which was no­ti­fied March 3 of al­le­ga­tions against Fri­anita Wil­son — in­ves­ti­gates, Smith said.

The Dal­las Morn­ing News first re­ported about the let­ter, which doesn’t name Fri­anita Wil­son.

Smith asks in the let­ter that the Sun­set Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion con­duct an in­de­pen­dent and thor­ough re­view of the con­tract­ing pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures of the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion.

State Rep. Gio­vanni Capriglione, R-South­lake, told Smith dur­ing a hear­ing of the House Gen­eral In­ves­ti­gat­ing and Ethics Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day that he was con­cerned the prob­lems that once de­railed the com­mis­sion per­sisted.

Smith told the com­mit­tee that the com­mis­sion has made sev­eral im­prove­ments to how it pro­cures con­tracts since the 21CT fall­out. A deputy com­mis­sioner has been as­signed to over­see pro­cure­ment and con­tract­ing ser­vices. Ex­ec­u­tive staff must sign off on con­tracts worth more than $1 mil­lion. The com­mis­sion has also in­creased train­ing for pur­chasers and con­tract man­agers.

Laws passed in the last leg­isla­tive ses­sion boost over­sight of large state con­tracts awarded to pri­vate com­pa­nies and pro­hibit state em­ploy­ees in­volved in bid de­ci­sions from work­ing for the win­ning com­pany for two years.

When asked by state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, if his let­ter was an in­di­ca­tion of his lack of con­fi­dence in the com­mis­sion’s pro­cure­ment prac­tice, Smith said no.

“What I felt would be best given this cur­rent cir­cum­stance was to have an in­de­pen­dent en­tity come in and take an­other look at what we’ve done to en­sure that our pro­cesses, prac­tices that we have put in place are strong. Not that I am doubt­ing what we’ve done,” Smith said.

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