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Making money on both ends

I’m glad to hear that the food stamp backlog should be cleared up soon. I’m not so glad to hear that one of the guys who bears responsibility for getting us into that mess in the first place now stands to benefit from the work to get us out of it.

Gregg Phillips was the state’s No. 2 social services official several years ago, and he led a push to hire a private company to evaluate applications for public assistance.

Now his Austin-based company, AutoGov Inc., has received $207,500 since November to help the state eliminate errors in deciding whether an applicant gets food stamps or other aid and how much recipients get. AutoGov was hired without other companies having a chance to bid for the work.

Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said that the agency’s commissioner, Tom Suehs, and his predecessor, Albert Hawkins, agreed that the company’s software might alleviate the problem.

“They both faced the same problem – high error rates – and thought it offered a potential solution,” Goodman said.

State laws on former employees lobbying or contracting with agencies would not prohibit such an arrangement, given that Phillips had been off the state’s payroll for several years. But critics of the deal say it’s troubling that a former employee is getting paid to try to fix problems spawned by an idea he helped hatch.

A leader of a state employees union complained that Hawkins and Suehs – both appointees of Gov. Rick Perry – again have sought high-tech, low-cost fixes for the loss of experienced state workers.

Mike Gross, vice president of the Texas State Employees Union, also said he’s troubled that Hawkins approved a vendor subcontract with two of his former aides – Phillips and AutoGov’s chief executive, Rose A. Hayden, Hawkins’ former chief of staff. The company is paid as a subcontractor to the larger firm that the state hired to run the system.

“The whole thing smells very bad,” Gross said. “We’re now hiring the guy who got us in the mess in the first place. It is absolutely stunning.”

The Gregg Phillipses of the world are like cockroaches. You can never get rid of them. I suppose after all this time I shouldn’t be surprised. The DMN story has a lot of background, and you can get more here.

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