Gov. Greg Abbott, after receiving the report of a special “strike force” he appointed to investigate management problems and a contract scandal at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said Monday that he wants to study the report before announcing his next steps.
Such a careful and deliberate approach is appropriate, even admirable.
But given the severity of the scandal — a contract worth $20 million in taxpayer money awarded without competitive bidding, with a $90 million contract extension on the table — and the very critical nature of the report from the strike force he appointed, Abbott must clean house in HHSC’s top ranks.
That means Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek must go. That’s unfortunate because Janek has been on the job barely 18 months and is clearly dedicated to improving the $73.9 billion HHSC.
But the strike force report also makes it clear that Janek does not have a handle on how to run the five-agency enterprise. An anesthesiologist by training, he served eight years in the Texas House and more than five years in the Senate before being appointed to his HHSC post by then-Gov. Rick Perry.
His agencies employ more than 54,000 workers and serve millions of Texans with food and medical benefits, nursing home supervision, rehabilitation, child and adult protective services, and other health-related matters.
Until 2003, that organization encompassed 12 state agencies, which the Legislature decided should be combined into five. The strike force report and a recent Sunset Commission report showed that organizational details of that consolidation are “incomplete and problematic.”
Yet Janek didn’t complete them. The task force says he isolated himself behind an informal “kitchen cabinet” of advisers.
The strike force said HHSC “lacks a clear vision for its future and a strategic direction” and is too often “reactive,” raising “serious questions about the agency’s internal functions.”
The report recommends that a plan for further consolidation, a Sunset Commission and legislative effort to combine the five agencies into one, be postponed so HHSC can “develop a coherent plan for the path forward.”
A better manager than Janek is required to develop and supervise that plan.