The purchasing director at Child Protective Services has been placed on leave as officials launch an investigation into a “substantial” pending contract involving a nonprofit where the director’s husband works, the American-Statesman has learned.
It’s the second time Frianita Wilson has been placed on leave amid contract questions. She was a figure in the 21CT contracting scandal, which led to the resignations of her husband, Doug Wilson, former inspector general of the Health and Human Services Commission, and the former agency Chief Counsel Jack Stick, among others.
Frianita Wilson continued to be paid her annual $100,000 salary while on a yearlong administrative leave, starting in December 2014, as officials investigated her role in procuring a contract with Austin data and analytics firm 21CT. She was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
Doug Wilson told the Statesman on Friday that his wife had done nothing wrong and that she had disclosed to the commission that he works for a nonprofit that deals with residential child care. He said that the nonprofit hasn’t been awarded a contract and that his wife’s job duties don’t include contract procurement.
He said that the commission unfairly targeted his wife and him in the 21CT affair and that commission officials are doing it again. Other agency officials have gone to work for nonprofits receiving contracts from the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees CPS, without the same scrutiny he has received, Doug Wilson said.
“Once again, my wife and I are being placed underneath a cloud of suspicion. We’re not pleased by it,” Wilson said. “This time, my wife and I are not going to take this sitting down. We’re tired of being picked on.”
A memo addressed to Frianita Wilson that was provided by the department said that she was placed on emergency leave Thursday and she was considered to be on “alternative work assignment” until further notice. She isn’t allowed to access her work computer or contact the employees who report to her unless she’s instructed to do so by her bosses, the memo said.
Department of Family and Protective Services officials declined to comment on the case.
Frianita Wilson was put on leave the first time after signing off on a $452,000 deal with 21CT to help the Department of Family and Protective Services track child abuse investigations. That deal was canceled in the wake of the scandal, which centered on a separate $20 million contract with 21CT to help detect Medicaid fraud. A $90 million contract extension with the company was canceled in December 2014 after a Statesman investigation revealed problems with the deal, including the lack of a traditional bidding process, little oversight and a possible conflict of interest.
State health Commissioner Charles Smith on Thursday sent a letter informing lawmakers of an investigation into a “substantial procurement” that hadn’t been awarded. The contract process has been halted while the Office of the Inspector General — which was notified March 3 of allegations against Frianita Wilson — investigates the allegation, Smith said. The Dallas Morning News first reported about the letter, which doesn’t name Frianita Wilson. Smith asks in the letter that the Sunset Advisory Commission conduct an independent and thorough review of the contracting processes and procedures of the Health and Human Services Commission.
State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, told Smith during a hearing of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee on Thursday that he was concerned the problems that once derailed the commission persisted.
Smith told the committee that the commission has made several improvements to how it procures contracts since the 21CT fallout. A deputy commissioner has been assigned to oversee procurement and contracting services. Executive staff must sign off on contracts worth more than $1 million. The commission has also increased training for purchasers and contract managers.
Laws passed in the last legislative session boost oversight of large state contracts awarded to private companies and prohibit state employees involved in bid decisions from working for the winning company for two years.
When asked by state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, if his letter was an indication of his lack of confidence in the commission’s procurement practice, Smith said no.
“What I felt would be best given this current circumstance was to have an independent entity come in and take another look at what we’ve done to ensure that our processes, practices that we have put in place are strong. Not that I am doubting what we’ve done,” Smith said.