Texas Vet Board Still Struggling to Fix Database Issues, Legislative Review Says

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Months after a KXAN investigation into issues at the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, a new legislative report reveals the agency is still struggling to manage its data on veterinarians in the state.

The report found that TBVME had failed to implement previous recommendations from the Sunset Advisory Commission — a group of lawmakers and members of the public that evaluates the function and performance of state agencies. Sunset has reviewed this agency three times in the past six years.

“Without addressing basic, but important, state agency operations such as contracting and data management, the board will continue to struggle to fulfill its important mission of establishing and enforcing policies to ensure the highest quality equine veterinary and dental care services for animals in Texas. “, says the report.

In 2017 and again in 2021, Sunset asked TBVME to fix the way it tracks licensing and enforcement information – instead of relying on Excel spreadsheets to manage complaint status and disciplinary cases. In the spring of 2022, KXAN investigators found dozens of disciplinary records still missing from the agency’s Public Licensee Search website, which could prevent pet owners from seeing a disciplinary history. veterinary.

At the time, a lawyer for the agency said many recordings had to be uploaded manually. After the investigation aired, one of the agency’s executives said he would review the missing documents and eventually “rectified” the problem.

Sunset staff noted in the report that since 2017, the agency has spent over $180,000 trying to buy a database system from various vendors, but never received a final product.

The report explains that TBVME had to cancel a contract, after the main contractor working on the database went out of business. He entered into another contract with another company in 2020, but TBVME staff were unable to locate that contract or other documents related to the work.

Sunset staff called it “concerning” and went on to say that it “frustrates efforts to hold the agency accountable for spending public funds and raises questions of misuse.”

According to the Sunset report, the second contract disappeared after TBVME executives resigned in April.

In September, Brittany Sharkey was named the agency’s new permanent executive director. She was previously general counsel for TBVME.

During an October budget hearing on Capitol Hill, Sharkey testified about the agency’s new administration — noting that funding a new database was the agency’s “highest priority.”

According to its Statutory Appropriations Request (LAR), the agency has been “hampered by a lack of adequate resources to fulfill its primary mission over the past few years”, which is why it is requesting more funding for a new database. – $143,110 in one-time costs and $276,120 in ongoing expenses.

Sharkey testified that his staff currently uses a combination of certain operational parts of a database and Excel spreadsheets to track information.

“This makes communicating basic data a complex task. Hours are spent gathering case information for our board meetings, and it hampers the accuracy with which we can provide data to the public,” she said.

Other “significant concerns”

The Sunset Report was compiled for special review by the Commission, specifically focused on database issues. However, staff noted several other issues in the report: from long delays in resolving complaints to a drop in inspections.

The report cites figures from KXAN’s survey, showing that the agency took an average of 464 days to resolve a complaint in fiscal year 2021, compared to 221 days in fiscal year 2015. The report also said noted a “sharp decline” in the number of inspections conducted by the agency. in 2021 – 56, compared to nearly 500 in previous years.

The report notes that staff received more comments about the agency “raising significant concerns about its management, transparency and responsiveness to the public.”

Sunset staff plan to present their findings to the Sunset Advisory Commission at a meeting Thursday.

KXAN investigators are at the meeting and will update this story with more details soon.