- Andrea Ball American-Statesman Staff
Child Protective Services is under siege.
The agency is failing to see thousands of endangered children. Underappreciated and underpaid caseworkers are fleeing in droves. State lawmakers are demanding immediate action.
Amid such urgent problems, state investigators recently spent three months trying to ferret out an employee who complained to the media about a plan to give top-level bosses $268,000 in raises.
In June — after the American-Statesman received a confidential memo about the proposal — the state Health and Human Services Commission’s Office of Inspector General launched an investigation into who sent the document to the newspaper. Investigators confiscated computers. They questioned 21 people. Eventually, according to the report, they narrowed their focus to three suspects.
Ultimately, however, the agency couldn’t find the leak. All it could confirm was that it had, in fact, happened.
“Although there was sufficient evidence to support that an internal memo was obtained by the media, how the media came to receive a copy of the memo could not be determined,” the inspector general’s Sept. 21 report states.
In recent years, the federal government has pursued employees it has suspected of leaking material to reporters that was deemed a threat to national security. But the state’s effort to ferret out a newspaper’s confidential source over a proposed salary raise for government managers appears unprecedented, at least within the sprawling social services agency.
Despite regular tips to news agencies on everything from child deaths to policy decisions, this is the first time the Department of Family and Protective Services — which oversees CPS — has asked the inspector general to investigate a leak.
“The American-Statesman saw this internal document before Commissioner (Hank) Whitman did, so obviously he was concerned about the integrity of internal management communications, many of which reflect confidential preliminary policy discussions,” Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said.
The incident started in June when a confidential source leaked the Statesman an internal memo, in which agency officials recommended that each of CPS’ 10 regional directors get raises that would bring their annual salaries to a minimum of $100,000 and a maximum of $142,000. The seven-page memo said that regional directors should earn the additional money because they “perform complex, highly advanced managerial work.”
The raises for the 10 directors would have cost the agency about $268,000 per year. The document also suggested paying the deputy director who works with the regional directors $112,500 per year — about $34,000 more than the previous deputy director made.
The proposal to pay its managers six-figure salaries came at a time when the agency was failing to see thousands of potentially abused children within the mandated deadlines. Talk of big raises for top leaders also rankled CPS caseworkers, some of whom make less than $35,000 per year.
The day the Statesman story ran, Whitman killed the plan.
According to the report, the inspector general interviewed nearly two dozen Family and Protective Services employees who had access to the memo. The investigators set their sights on three people but couldn’t find evidence that anyone sent it to the Statesman.
Kelley Shannon — executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas — said seeking out and punishing someone for informing the public about how taxpayer money is spent is unwise.
“Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is used and how government decisions are made,” Shannon said.
In November, Family and Protective Services wrote a new policy essentially banning employees from releasing internal communications or confidential information to the public. “Any and all contact of any nature with the news media” must go through the communications office, the policy states.
“Big picture, this is about the principle,” said Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission. “We must have a culture of care and thoughtfulness about all of our material, given we house a lot of sensitive information about the families we are trying to protect.”