EXAM ROOM: Independent HHS Watchdog Echoes Committee’s Concerns that Obamacare Grants Violate Anti-Lobbying Statutes

July 11, 2012

The independent Health and Human Services Inspector General is sounding the alarm about potential misuse of taxpayer dollars, highlighting the same concerns Energy and Commerce Committee members have raised that federal dollars funneled through a key Obamacare “slush fund” may have been inappropriately used to finance lobbying campaigns in violation of federal bans on such activity.

The HHS IG cited concerns within a program known as Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), a program that has received hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. In a letter to the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which administers CPPW grants, the HHS IG wrote, “We are concerned that some statements in those reports [by CCPW grant recipients] may reflect inappropriate lobbying activities using CPPW grant funds. Our review also indicated that this may have originated from a lack of clear guidance—or even conflicting information—from CDC to CPPW grantees concerning the anti-lobbying restrictions.”

The IG’s review expresses similar concerns that Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) raised directly to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the questionable nature of these grants. During a March 1, 2012, Health Subcommittee hearing, Sebelius failed to adequately answer whether the grants violated current statute. However, when Guthrie and Whitfield further investigated the issue, HHS touted their oversight efforts and rebuffed any allegation that the grants violated anti-lobbying prohibitions. The HHS watchdog's correspondence seemingly contradicts Sebelius' and HHS' claims.

In addition to announcing plans to further evaluate HHS’ oversight of lobbying prohibitions, the IG proposed the CDC “review its guidance and other materials posted on its Web site, clarify any misleading statements about lobbying activities by grantees under this program, train CDC employees, as necessary, and provide updated and more detailed guidance to grantees describing how to avoid violating these statutory provisions.”

House Republicans have voted to prevent this type of wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars by eliminating unaccountable Obamacare slush funds. The IG’s letter underscores the urgency of that effort, demonstrating the limited oversight this administration is exercising of programs hidden throughout the 2,700 pages of Obamacare.