Albert Hawkins’ nomination as Health and Human Services Commissioner is likely to go forward this week, despite continued criticism of TIERS, the state’s expensive new software for determining social service eligibility.
Hawkins has been held hostage by lawmakers unhappy with misadventures related to privatization, as well as his nonresponsive answers to questions about Gov. Rick Perry’s HPV vaccine mandate.
But a majority of the members of the Senate Nominations Committee indicated to me last week they were ready to recommend Hawkins’ confirmation to the full Senate.
“The guy’s qualifications are phenomenal. We need his capabilities,” said Nominations Chair Mike Jackson. Jackson blamed the delay in confirmation on “some of the things the governor has done. He (Hawkins) is the closest thing to the governor they (lawmakers) could be mad at.”
Two hold-outs are Eliot Shapleigh and Kevin Eltife – for different reasons. Shapleigh cited the longstanding problems related to TIERS and the failure of private vendor Accenture. Hawkins, he said, failed to advocate for adequate funds for health and human service needs. “I personally like Albert but we need management held accountable,” Shapleigh said.
Eltife said he was disappointed with Hawkins’ response to questions about whether the HPV vaccine should have been the subject of a gubernatorial executive order. “My issue is, a head of an agency should be able to answer that. I don’t want someone to cover for me,” he said. “If he can’t answer that, I can’t vote for him.”
But Sens. Jackson, Kirk Watson, Jane Nelson and Glenn Hegar said they would support Hawkins’ nomination. ((Robert Nichols declined to say publicly how he will vote.)”I think Albert will do a good job,” Hegar said. “I just wanted to make sure he wouldn’t automatically mandate the HPV vaccine and that the will of the Legislature would be considered.”
(That issue just got clarified further with the Senate’s passage today of CSHB 1098, which places moratorium on a state mandated HPV vaccine until 2011.)
Last week, the Health and Human Services Commission issued a response last week defending the new system against a highly critical report on TIERS issued by the Office of the Inspector General. “One key fact often gets lost in the detailed discussions about specific elements of the new software system…The new system works,” the response said.
Some key points:
* While the Inspector General noted that TIERS takes longer to process a new application that the old system, TIERS “takes a more rigorous and complete look at the household….This saves time in the long run, strengthens fraud preventions and provides a higher level of confidence in teh sate’s ability to accurately determine a family’s eligibility.”
* Also, TIERS processes recertifications faster – which account for 80 percent of case actions, the response claims.
Still, HHSC agreed that an independent audit of TIERS should occur to “provide state leaders with a higher level of confidence” in the new system.
During his years of service, Hawkins has won the respect of lawmakers from both parties. That his nomination hit any bumps illustrates the difficulty of the job posed by privatization and the development of the new integrated eligibility software.