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Chron investigates Gregg Phillips

The Chron has a long and detailed story about the tenure of former Health and Human Services Director Gregg Phillips, who was responsible for overseeing the transition of much HHS work to private firms. Phillips, who helped write the infamous HB 2292 which legislated the HHS changes, had connections to some of the firms that stood to gain multimillion dollar contracts from the state.

When Deputy Health and Human Services Commissioner Gregg Phillips and private consultant Chris Britton helped write the $1 billion legislation to privatize Texas’ human services system, they apparently did so partly with an eye on profit — their own.

A Houston Chronicle investigation into the activities of Britton, Phillips and Texas Workforce Commission Executive Director Larry Temple found weaknesses in Texas ethics laws concerning conflicts of interests and cronyism. Their relationships and how they benefited from state business illustrate how Texas law has overlooked the power of lower-level bureaucrats who are often charged with crafting laws.

Current laws force state agency chiefs to disclose their financial interests but do not apply to their subordinates.

And a private consultant such as Britton can help write a state law, then try to profit from it without being subject to either the state’s lobby-registration laws or revolving-door prohibitions.

The investigation found that:

•Britton’s company joined with one founded by Phillips to get a $670,000 state contract in January 2004 from the Workforce Commission, a state agency run by Temple, one of Phillips’ longtime friends.
•Phillips once headed the human services system in Mississippi, where legislators criticized him for giving a major state contract to a company, then going to work for the firm. In Texas, Phillips played a role in a major state contract going to another former employer in 2003.
•Phillips also apparently helped a business partner, Paige Harkins, get work advising companies on how to win Texas human services privatization contracts that he could influence. On at least one occasion, records indicate Harkins set up a meeting between Phillips and potential state vendors.
•Britton’s consulting company explored bidding on state contracts that were mandated by legislation primarily drafted by himself and Phillips during the 2003 Legislature.

What annoys me about this article is that it should have been written last year, when Phillips was poised to take control of HHS. His track record was well known, just not well covered. Look at this bit from the Chron story:

But Phillips left as the head of the Mississippi Department of Human Services in 1995 under fire from the Legislature for his management of the state welfare programs. Lawmakers later that year accused him of ethics violations.

As human services director, Phillips had given an $875,000 state contract to a company that he went to work for when he left state government.

“Mr. Phillips’ actions create the appearance of impropriety, facilitating an erosion of the public trust,” said the Mississippi Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review.

You’ll find that last quote right here. A blog called The Gunther Concept dug it up. Look at the questions he was asking in June of 2003 here:

How much business will Enterject, Inc. receive as a result of [the proposed changes to HHS]?

Does Gregg Phillips still have any role with Enterject, Inc.?

Will he immediately start working for Enterject when he eventually leaves his current position?

Is there anyone out there who thinks this is a conflict of interest?

Why does’t anyone know about this?

Looks like those questions are just getting answered now. Too bad more people weren’t asking those questions back then.

More on Gregg Phillips can be found here, here, here, and here.

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  1. Kimberly says:

    I don’t have the full story on Gregg Phillips, but his name was mentioned frequently in the process of hearings on HB 2292. No secret there. But most of the daily reporters usually cleared out an hour or two after a hearing started. They didn’t stay around. They didn’t attend the state employee conventions. Shrug. I hope (for my own sake) that I get it together a little better myself this session….

  2. Taking the Media to Task

    Charles Kuffner over at Off the Kuff has some criticism that the media didn’t raise Gregg Phillips’ myriad conflict-of-interest issues before he left the Department of Health and Human Services. That made me think of several points I would want…

  3. As one who has been watching HB2292 from the inside of TDHS (now merged into HHSC), I can tell you that Gregg Phillips’ Mississippi connections were well known, and it was well known what a mess they had made in Mississippi. The problem is that neither the Democrats who opposed it, nor the Republicans who defended it seemed to have a real grasp of what was going on… and unfortunately neither did the people making the decisions about privatization in our agency. There is an amazing disconnect between the reality on the ground and what these people think is going on.

    It’s a real mess, and I’ve started blogging about it at: