The Austin Chronicle

Strayhorn to Investigate Accenture

By Amy Smith, May 19, 2006, News

Thumbing her nose at state leaders' attempts to limit her authority, state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said she will investigate the contractor responsible for processing the applications of low-income Texans seeking state assistance. Texas Access Alliance, a private consortium led by Bermuda-based Accenture, has come under fire in recent months for a sharp decline in the number of children enrolled in the Children's Health Insurance Program.

State records show that more than 30,000 children have been dropped from CHIP rolls since Dec. 1, and the total enrollment is seeing its lowest numbers – below 300,000 – since the program's early stages five years ago. "The Accenture contract appears to be the perfect storm of wasted tax dollars, reduced access to services for our most vulnerable Texans, and profiteering at the expense of our Texas taxpayers," said Strayhorn, who hopes to oust Gov. Rick Perry from the governor's office in November.

Her decision to investigate follows letters to her office from El Paso Democratic Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and state Reps. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, and Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels. The three lawmakers requested an audit and performance review of the contract that grew out of a 2003 omnibus bill, HB 2292, which led to sweeping changes in the Health and Human Services Commission, including a move toward privatized call centers now run by Accenture.

Other problems with the contractor have forced state officials to delay the rollout of a new computer system that would have allowed people to apply for benefits online or by telephone. The plan called for shutting about 100 of the state's eligibility offices and eliminating about 2,900 staff positions. But with so many kinks in the system, the state has decided to hang on to 1,000 state workers until the problems get ironed out.

Despite Attorney General Greg Abbott's ruling two weeks ago that Strayhorn was out of bounds when she investigated and produced a searing report on the Texas Residential Construction Commission, the comptroller again appears undaunted by the threat of getting reined in on her probe of the Accenture contract. Strayhorn would likely respond the same way she did when Abbott issued his opinion. As she said at the time, "If the attorney general wants to take me to court, let's go."

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