- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek is on his way out, state officials announced Friday, shaking up Texas’ biggest agency that plunged into turmoil over a $110 million no-bid contracting scandal that remains under criminal investigation.

Janek, who makes $260,000 a year and was appointed in 2012, will step down on July 1.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott made no mention of the unrest at the massive agency, which includes an ongoing probe by public corruption prosecutors and the forced resignation of other top officials, in naming two veteran state executives to take over the 56,000-person commission.

But tellingly, within an hour of announcing the changes, the governor touted his signing of contracting laws that are being tightened after HHSC last year gave an Austin tech company lucrative no-bid deals to help the state root out Medicaid fraud.

“I am proud to sign this bill that ensures Texans can trust their state government to issue contracts in a fair, open and responsible manner,” Abbott said.

In a statement, Janek did not address the recent scrutiny on him and HHSC, saying his leave is timed to an impending restructuring of the agency that oversees the state’s Medicaid program, welfare payments and women’s health. As recently as March, Janek had given no indication that he planned to leave, even after a scathing state report ordered by Abbott urged changes at the top.

“I think it’s important we have a smooth succession as the agency takes on these new challenges,” Janek said.

The contracting scandal handed Abbott his first crisis as governor and erupted shortly after his election in November. Top Janek deputies resigned and the state halted large-scale contracts across all agencies.

Janek has criticized former employees who steered the work toward Austin-based 21CT. The company has denied having an unfair advantage and has said it was forced to have layoffs after the state canceled the HHSC contracts, which totaled $110 million. Other 21CT contracts elsewhere in state government also were called off, but the company still has a contract with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.

Prosecutors and investigators have not accused anyone of wrongdoing.

Abbott said he intends to appoint Chris Traylor, the current deputy executive commissioner at HHSC, as Janek’s successor. Charles Smith, who oversees child support at the Texas attorney general’s office, will be deputy executive commissioner.

Janek is a former Republican state senator who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman, who helped push legislative reforms in the wake of the HHSC turmoil, said running such a complex agency is better left to bureaucrats instead of politicians.

“It’s easier to have a relationship that isn’t based on ideology,” Coleman said. “I’m not saying Kyle was super ideological. But they serve at the pleasure of the governor.”

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber .

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