Texas’ top state leader in the fight against the coronavirus receives no state salary and is allowed to keep his other 30-hour-per-week paying gig overseeing a nonprofit utility.
Texas Tribune health reporter Shannon Najmabadi, who wrote about this unusual arrangement for acting Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Phil Wilson, on Thursday told Texas Standard about how he’s able to keep both jobs. Wilson was tapped by Gov. Greg Abbott to temporarily fill the vacant commissioner job in March.
“This arrangement, although quite unusual, it might have been a way for Abbott to tap into this person who he thought of as the best person for the job,” Najmabadi said.
Wilson, who has previously led other agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation, has no health services background.
But when Courtney Phillips stepped down as HHSC’s executive commissioner in February, Abbott turned to Wilson, who has long acted as a sort of “Mr. Fixit” when it comes to government agencies that need managing.
Wilson, who helped the General Land Office after Hurricane Harvey, currently heads the quasi-government public utility, the Lower Colorado River Authority, which sells electricity in Central Texas. While it receives no government funding, its board is appointed by the Texas governor and Senate, and that board selects the executive director. There, Wilson is paid $636,694 a year.
When Abbott chose him as acting HHSC executive commissioner, he declined a salary. But he still works at both places.
“Commissioner Wilson is now splitting his time,” Najmabadi explained. “Spokespeople for both agencies say he’s working about 80 hours a week, 50 hours for the HHSC while staying in touch daily with LCRA leadership.”
Najmabadi said some people have raised questions about whether Wilson can effectively lead the agency working to fight the virus outbreak while also working 30 hours a week for his paying job, at LCRA.
“This is meant to be temporary,” she explained.
But with no vaccine on the horizon for COVID-19, it remains to be seen how temporary his posting will be.