Greenstein is a “no show”

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING  -- Louisiana House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, left, speaks about  the absence Tuesday of Bruce Greenstein, Secretary of Department of Health and Hospitals, during discussion in the committee of the agency's proposed $8.87 billion budget.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Louisiana House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, left, speaks about the absence Tuesday of Bruce Greenstein, Secretary of Department of Health and Hospitals, during discussion in the committee of the agency's proposed $8.87 billion budget.

State health chief Bruce Greenstein skipped Tuesday’s legislative hearing on his agency’s proposed $8.87 billion budget, a few days after a report of a federal probe into the award of a Medicaid claims processing contract to one of his former employers.

Meanwhile, state Inspector General Stephen Street, whom the Jindal administration brought into probe, told the panel that he has asked those who had anything to do with the contract dealings to “refrain from commenting publicly on the specific matters under investigation.”

Federal rules require confidentiality, Street said.

The Jindal administration canceled the $185 million-plus contract with Client Network Services Inc. after the federal grand jury probe became public last week.

Since then, the state Attorney General’s Office said it also has had an on-going probe into the circumstances surrounding the contract award.

Greenstein was CNSI’s vice president for health care in 2005 and 2006, prior to going to work for Microsoft Corp., which was the job he left to become secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals a little more than two years ago.

Greenstein has refused interviews in the wake of recent developments. Inquiries have been referred by his staff to the governor’s Division of Administration.

Greenstein’s no-show brought criticism from Louisiana House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, who said the meeting had been scheduled for four weeks. Fannin said Greenstein called about two weeks ago to say he could not make it.

“I suggested it would be in order for him to be here,” Fannin said. “He chose, I’m assuming, not to be here ... It’s important for this secretary to be here just as it is for all secretaries. It’s not responsible in any way for the secretary not to be here.”

Fannin said the Appropriations Committee may have questions about the CNSI contract cancelation, particularly its impact on the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“I’m extremely disappointed he did not show up,” state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said. “If there’s a question he didn’t want to answer, they do a great job of not answering questions anyway.”

DHH spokeswoman Kathleen Meyers said Greenstein missed the meeting because of “a prior family engagement independent of anything else going on over there.”

Also Tuesday, the head of the Louisiana House Democratic Caucus weighed in to criticize Gov. Bobby Jindal’s handling of the situation.

“I find it ironic that a governor who touts improved ethics had to cancel the almost $200 million CSNI contract because of a criminal investigation,” state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said. “The governor ignored repeated warnings about that contract and DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein’s ties to CNSI.”

Other vendors that competed for the Medicaid claims processing work claimed CNSI “low-balled” its price, and state reviewers found more than 70 erroneous assumptions in CNSI’s proposal.

Edwards said federal investigators served Jindal’s office in January with a subpoena about the contract “but the governor let the deal move ahead.”

“The ‘ethics’ governor waited for weeks to take action. Only when the federal criminal investigation was made public did he cancel the contract,” Edwards said.

The federal grand jury probe came to light in a subpoena released by the governor’s Division of Administration in response to a public records request by The Advocate.

“This delay in protecting the taxpayers’ interests is the action of a politician interested in his own image and not the action of a governor dedicated to protecting the taxpayer’s money. We need a governor who puts Louisiana first, not the interests of out-of-state corporations.”

Since its award, DHH has upped the $184.9 million, 10-year contract by $8.9 million. Another contract amendment for $40 million was axed by Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols because of its size. She said the new work needed to go through a competitive request for proposals process.