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Senators Barrientos, Shapleigh call for special joint committee

Austin, TX –

State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) and Senator Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) today called for a Special Joint Interim Committee to scrutinize all current and anticipated contracts to be issued by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The call was made in response to the recent State Auditor's report which highlighted the Commission's failure to achieve any of the $21.7 million savings expected from outsourcing human resources and payroll functions to Convergys, a private company.

In a letter to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst co-authored by Senator Shapleigh, Senator Barrientos expressed his concerns over findings in the audit which described the Commission's inability to accurately estimate savings and properly document their actions as required by state law. "In anticipation of an unsatisfactory outcome, I wrote the Commission in February 2004 asking that they reconsider the push to privatize payroll and human resources, and was assured in a response that 'as good stewards of taxpayer dollars' the Commission would 'carefully establish their criteria' and 'focus on performance and accountability'," wrote Barrientos. "In light of the Commission's response, I find the results of the State Auditor's report particularly disappointing." Barrientos continued by saying "as news of the audit has spread, I have begun to field reports from state employees who are unable to access the HR system, check and use their vacation time, and in some cases, even receive a paycheck. This is simply unacceptable. We need increased legislative scrutiny before we move further down the often one-way street of privatization."

Senator Shapleigh expressed his regret over the failure of recent legislation which could have avoided problems raised in the audit. Moreover, he criticized the Commission's decision to award the contract to Convergys despite their previously demonstrated failure to achieve savings under a similar contract in Florida. Shapleigh notes in the letter that Senate Bill 1482 he filed last session would have guaranteed "best value" to the taxpayer, thereby ensuring that money was spent wisely and efficiently. The bill did not get out of committee. Shapleigh also noted the resemblance of this situation to current practice in Washington, D. C., saying "in D.C., we see no-bid, long-term contracts based on cronyism connections, not best value."

A committee to oversee the privatizations called for by House Bill 2292 in the 78th Regular Session met during the interim between the 78th and 79th sessions, issued a report which was not signed by all members, and has not met subsequently. Senators Barrientos and Shapleigh have asked the Lieutenant Governor to work with the Speaker of the House to create a new, Joint Interim Committee to analyze the findings of the State Auditor and to report on the unfulfilled promises of House Bill 2292 and privatization.