Contractor defends fired DPS admin

June 9, 2011 3:43:22 AM PDT
A subcontractor in a $2.6 million state project that led to the firing of the Texas administrator in charge of federal homeland security grants says there was nothing improper about how his former Texas National Guard colleague handled the contract. Randall Casey, president of Round Rock-based Cyber Defenses, said former Texas Department of Public Safety administrator Janice Bruno did nothing wrong in using his company to help streamline how the state doles out hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants each year.

DPS on Monday fired Bruno, who knew Casey from their time serving in the National Guard. State investigators have referred the case to prosecutors, who could bring criminal charges against the former State Administrative Agency administrator, according to DPS.

Casey said Bruno didn't award him the contract as a favor to a longtime acquaintance.

"When I think of illegality, I think of things like bribes and kickbacks and things of that nature," Casey told The Associated Press. "None of those were in play, nor would they ever be, with Janice or me."

Bruno has not returned messages for comment. Casey said state prosecutors told him he was not being pursued for criminal charges, and said he had opened all his books to Texas Rangers and state auditors.

DPS has released few details beyond a brief statement announcing Bruno's firing.

DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said Bruno was fired for violating "procurement rules" but would not elaborate. The agency said the investigation surrounded a contract through the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which funnels grant dollars from the state to local departments.

Mike Eastland, the council's executive director, said the project or hiring Austin-based MRSW Management wasn't their idea. He said Bruno's department approached his council, explaining that the usual process for the state approving a contract was cumbersome and time-consuming. This work, the council was told, needed to be done quickly.

Eastland said he didn't consider the request from the state odd. He was even supportive of Bruno wanting to hire an outside firm to speed up the grant process and help expedite payments through the slow-moving state bureaucracy.

"We are very familiar with how long it takes things to get done," Eastland said.

Eastland said the state recommended the council hire Austin-based MRSW Management, an approved contractor with the state's Department of Information Resources. Melvin White, president of MRSW, said he then subcontracted Cyber Defenss to perform the work. White said Cyber Defense has subcontracted with his company for several years, adding that Cyber Defenses could not directly win a job because the company is currently not on the approved list of state contractors.

Casey said and Bruno didn't discuss the grant-streamlining job before Bruno sought bids. But he added Bruno would want to have hired qualified people she knew were reliable.

Casey said this was how state contracts were awarded. He said he has previously "bid and bid and bid" on contracts and not won any of them, then was told by Department of Information Resources officials that he first needed to establish relationships.

"They don't take a written bid and win it," Casey said.

A message left with the Department of Information Resources after business hours Wednesday was not immediately returned.

Casey and White said the state owes them more than $700,000 in work completed before the investigation into Bruno halted the project last December. Both said the state has been unresponsive to questions about when they will get paid, and White said he's had to lay off several workers.

Mange, the DPS spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to questions about the payments late Wednesday. In announcing Bruno's firing this week, DPS said it would not pay any invoices related to the suspended contract.

"We've had to lay people off and our bank lines of credit have been frozen," White said. "For some reason, no one is wanting to pay us."

Mange said five other workers were also fired in wake of the investigation.

Bruno was hired in December 2008 and made about $91,000 a year, according to state records. She took the job after retiring from the Texas National Guard in 2008 after more than 30 years of military service, according to an online biography.

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