“State Contracting Investigation”

Recipient of the Overall Excellence Across the Associated Press Organizations award in The Charles E. Green Awards (2014)

Austin American-Statesman
December 20, 2014

2014 Gold Showcase Award Winner – Judges’ Comments: The Austin American-Statesman provides a compelling example of watchdog journalism that addresses key criteria of the Foundation’s Showcase competition – significant impact on Texas government or other institutions. As one judge noted, “Most impressive are the reporter’s great instincts – set off by an innocuous press release from a company bragging about its success. The reporter’s curiosity, digging and persistence led to the exposure of a process gone wrong.” The project started with a narrow focus and widened to larger issues with state contract oversight.  The Statesman’s coverage of the fallout of its 2014 breakthroughs contained dozens of follow-ups that were still appearing as the Showcase judging began in early 2015.

SUBMISSION:

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The Austin American-Statesman’s reporting into questionable contracts at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission began, innocently enough, with a press release.

An Austin technology company was touting its software designed to identify Medicaid fraud that had previously gone unnoticed. J. David McSwane, our beat reporter covering state health and social services agencies and federal entitlement programs, asked a copy of the $20 million contract through the Texas Public Information Act. State officials at first refused to release it, then provided a document so heavily redacted that it was impossible to know how much Texas was paying for specific services.

Red flags, and McSwane was eager to uncover what was being hidden. Through document and source work, he spearheaded an investigation that played out with stunning swiftness. In two short months at the end of 2014, a contract that no one had ever heard of went from a greased path toward a lucrative extension to sudden cancellation, and high-ranking officials resigned their positions.

We have linked to the signature story in this investigation, co-written by McSwane and investigative reporter Andrea Ball. For the full breadth of the investigation, please see the stories collected here: http://atxne.ws/21ctdeal

Also please see the interactive timeline detailing the evidence uncovered in the investigation: http://www.mystatesman.com/interactive/news/21ct-medicaid-contract-timeline/

This reporting made a difference. We recommend it to the Headliners Foundation judges for a Showcase Award.

LINK to story online

Submitted by John Bridges.