The Texas Health and Human Services system is creating a new procurement and contracting framework to help ensure goods and services are provided to clients efficiently, accurately and responsively.

The Procurement and Contracting Improvement Plan is the result of an extensive evaluation of HHS' procurement and contracting system, informed by the findings of audits from the State Auditor's Office, HHS Office of Inspector General, HHS Internal Audit division and private consultants from Ernst & Young. All found operational issues with the HHS' procurement and contracting functions, as well as a failure of oversight and lack of accountability.

HHS has addressed the specific issues that led to several canceled procurements in the past year, and will now address systematic issues and establish the foundation for a model to support the agency's millions of clients.

"One of our core businesses is executing and managing contracts to serve Texans in need. Over the years, the size, number and complexity of these contracts has grown, and our ability to ensure compliance and excellence in service delivery must keep pace," said HHS Executive Commissioner Courtney N. Phillips. "It is absolutely crucial that our clients, our vendors and the taxpayers have absolute faith that we are creating a fair and open process."

In addition to creating an accountable and transparent internal process, HHS will implement improvements to its communications between the system and its vendors.

"There is a wall that has been built between the agency and our vendors, without whom we can't serve the people who depend on us," said Victoria Ford, HHS' chief policy officer and interim chief operating officer. "Through open and timely communication, the agency and vendors can increase their understanding of each other's needs and capabilities."

Better communication means a better understanding of how HHS awards contracts and will protect both the vendors and the system from expensive errors, while ensuring optimal care.

"Ultimately, when we have strong partnerships with our vendors in providing services to clients, we all benefit," Ford said. "We have created a framework that supports accountability, transparency and compliance. Collectively, the projects that will be implemented through the plan will elevate the procurement and contracting system to a level that is responsive to the needs of our clients, transparent to vendors and accountable to taxpayers."

HHS has identified 15 projects essential to improving procurements and some contracting functions. In the coming months, implementation workgroups of staff from across affected programs will execute the plan's projects under the guidance of a team of experienced project managers and an executive steering committee of agency leadership. Officials expect the majority of projects to be fully implemented within 24 months, with short and long term projects realizing benefits between six months to a year, and mid-term projects within one to two years.

The projects will improve the operating model, enhance communications both internally and externally, strengthen the agency's approach to identifying and managing risk and improving process workflow, improve agency governance and policy related to procurements, augment utilization of technology and data and reinforce the critical nature of compliance.

These projects represent a crucial first step in what will be an ongoing, iterative process designed to optimize procurement and contracting and establish HHS as a leading, sustainable organization.

"This plan will synchronize the way we oversee contracts and allow us to keep pace with future changes," Phillips said.