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Let me be your sweetheart dealmaker

And another entry in the Gregg Phillips files.

A deputy human services commissioner awarded a $1.2 million consulting contract to a company whose lobbyist employed the commissioner’s former business partner as a consultant.

Gregg Phillips oversaw the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s award of a public information contract last year to Accenture to develop a strategy to inform the public and state employees about a state social services overhaul.

Accenture’s lobbyist in seeking the contract was Strategic Partnerships Inc. of Austin.

Shortly after Phillips became the No. 2 director of the state social services agency in March 2003, Strategic Partnerships hired Phillips’ former business partner, Paige Harkins, as a “senior strategy consultant” to advise companies how to lobby Phillips for contracts.

Strategic Partnerships’ founding partner Mary Scott Nabers said Harkins never directly lobbied Phillips and never worked on the Accenture account. Nabers said she also was unaware that Phillips’ wife, Helen, continued to work with Harkins in an unrelated business venture.

Nabers said she hired Harkins as a consultant because she worked with him in Mississippi when he oversaw the state’s social services restructuring.

“We really sought her out because we did not know what they had done in Mississippi, did not know anything about Gregg, did not know how to advise all of our clients, all of whom were interested in the consolidation,” Nabers said.

Nabers said she knew Harkins and Phillips had been partners in a Georgia-based company that Phillips had founded, Enterject Inc. But Nabers said Harkins had told her that she and Phillips had severed all business ties.

The Georgia Secretary of State lists Phillips’ wife, Helen, as the chief financial officer for Enterject. Phillips said his wife is just a part-time bookkeeper for the company.

Phillips last week announced plans to resign from the social services agency effective Sept. 3 for personal reasons.

Responding to questions by e-mail, Phillips said he never spoke to Harkins about any specific contracts awarded by the agency. Harkins, who works out of a Marrietta, Ga., office, could not be reached for comment.

Suzy Woodford, executive director of Common Cause of Texas, described Harkins employment by Nabers as a “sweetheart deal” because of Harkins’ relationship with Phillips and his wife.

Got all that? Whether any laws were actually broken or not – and I should note that the rest of the article mentions that the Texas Workforce Commission has determined there was no wrongdoing in the previous sweetheart deal that Phillips arranged – this whole process is awfully incestuous. Part of that is probably because there’s not that many people currently employed in the HHS privatization biz, and part of it is because any time there’s big fat juicy contracts to award there’s going to be a large incentive to give them to friends and colleagues who may someday have a big fat juicy contract to award to you. The latter is in my mind one of the stronger arguments against privatizing this sort of government function. I sure don’t see much evidence that a free market is the driving force here, so what benefit are we actually getting out of it?

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  1. Betty Young says:

    Typical behavior for these guys……great work if you can get it.

  2. bob lammers says:

    Phillips was trying to peddle an Enterject training software package 400K to Texas state agencies while lobbying for this position. Interesting!