Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Health Commissioner faces tough questioning in Senate

Health commissioner faces tough questioning in Senate

Robert T. GarrettDallas Morning News2/28/2007

AUSTIN – Conservative and liberal senators unhappy with Gov. Rick Perry over social initiatives and his order that girls be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus are holding up Senate confirmation of his point man for such safety-net programs as Medicaid and food stamps.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins, who easily received Senate approval four years ago, faces tough questioning today from the Senate Nominations Committee.
Mr. Hawkins, who worked for the Legislature for many years as a budget analyst, is accustomed to kid-glove treatment from lawmakers.

But he's getting back of the hand swipes from Sens. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, and Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, both members of the nominations panel.

Mr. Hegar is upset that Mr. Hawkins' agency helped draft Mr. Perry's Feb. 2 order that sixth-grade girls be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus starting next year.

"I'm withholding my support until he can address some of the concerns that I have," Mr. Hegar said.

Mr. Shapleigh, who says he doesn't blame Mr. Hawkins for lawmakers' "underfunding" of social programs, nevertheless accuses him of incompetence in managing a 15-month-old privatization of eligibility screening for Medicaid, food stamps, welfare and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Stephanie Goodman, a commission spokeswoman, said Mr. Hawkins is unfazed by the criticisms. "I think he's used to that role," she said.

Mr. Hawkins, who was budget director to Gov. George W. Bush, followed him to Washington , but returned to Texas in early 2003 at Mr. Perry's urging.

He advised the GOP-controlled Legislature that year on cutting programs to help meet a $10 billion budget shortfall. He has overseen a consolidation of 12 agencies into five. And he aggressively carried out one of the nation's most extensive efforts to privatize additional portions of social programs.

But Mr. Hegar is among social conservatives who have deplored Mr. Perry's HPV order as overreaching, an overly hasty promotion of one company's product and a possible signal to young girls that premarital sex can be safe.

The order provides "a false sense of hope to people" that cervical cancer can be avoided, he says. And he plans to sponsor legislation in the Senate to effectively override the order. A similar bill is moving in the House.

Ms. Goodman said the commission drafted the HPV order at the request of Perry aides. She said Mr. Hawkins probably would tell senators today about a federal agency's recommendation that young women receive the vaccine.

On the new eligibility screening system, Mr. Shapleigh said he's upset that Mr. Hawkins did not heed warnings that it wouldn't work.

"The alleged savings did not happen," Mr. Shapleigh said of the contract with a group led by Accenture. "Quality state employees were fired, and now we're hiring the same ones back. To me, that is incompetence on a major scale. I'll be asking what caused the agency to sign this contract."

Mr. Hawkins recently scaled back the contract by more than $350 million, limited the role of the contractor's employees and added back 900 state eligibility worker positions.

But while "not everything went as planned," Ms. Goodman said, the commission deserves credit for jumping on problems quickly and preventing a statewide rollout. If Mr. Hawkins' nomination clears the committee, the full Senate must act on it.


Anonymous said...

Um, The last paragreaph...Who deserves credit for "jumping on problems quickly and preventing a statewide rollout...." Didn't the Feds put a stop on any more roll outs until the system worked?

Anonymous said...

Topics for an interesting Albert Hawkins hearing:

1. What about ethics charges filed by Chris Bell regarding Albert Hawkins' membership on the board of Texas Health Institute and their non-competitive award of state Health and Human Service dollars? Is there an outcome?

2. What about OIG report stating public funds were paid to contractors at DSHS to lobby? Are these groups still funded? Has anyone had to pay back the money?

3. What about allegations by OIG that records were altered by DSHS and their contractors? Has there been follow-up on this serious criminal allegation in the OIG report?

4. What about allegations of inside info on bids shared between DFPS and Providence in the outsourcing of CPS services? Has this been thoroughly investigated?

Anonymous said...

I am so tired, I don't know if I can do this anymore. I am ready to quit my job and file for bankruptcy. This job has ruined my life. My kids are no longer involved in sports, I can't get them to weekday practices because I am still at work at 8pm. The powerful others that control our lives just want more and more and more. I'd be happy just to get a little pat on the back or how about just start interviewing at 8:30, so that I don't start my day out already behind.
I'm surprised that someone on staff or a client has not gone postal yet with all this stress