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#SubOversight Reviews Failures of Federal Mental Health System

Feb 11, 2015
Nonpartisan Government Watchdog Identified At Least 112 Federal Programs to Address Serious Mental Illness, But “Little Leadership in Coordinating” From HHS

WASHINGTON, DC – The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), today held a hearing to review findings in a new report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office on the failures of the federal mental health system. Witnesses from the GAO, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) testified.

The committee last week released the government watchdog’s "scathing" new report entitled, "Mental Health: HHS Leadership Needed to Coordinate Federal Efforts Related to Serious Mental Illness." The GAO found that there are at least 112 federal programs across eight agencies to support individuals with serious mental illness, but "SAMHSA – the agency within HHS that is required to promote coordination on mental health broadly… has shown little leadership in coordinating federal efforts on behalf of those with serious mental illness." HHS did not concur with GAO’s findings.

Murphy commented at the hearing, "When you have a mental health system as broken as the one we face today with a report card so tragic, you would think that the federal agency charged with coordinating the myriad of activities supporting individuals with severe mental illness would be open to recommendations from an experienced, nonpartisan authority steeped in the practices of good government. HHS, in rejecting both of GAO’s recommendations – and failing to identify any aspect of either recommendation worth working with or learning from – is essentially saying there is no room for improvement, and that the agency is doing everything right at present. It’s unbelievable."

Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) questioned the witnesses about the complexity of the federal mental health system and why HHS’ Federal Executive Steering Committee for Mental Health has not met since 2009, given the coordination issues that the GAO identified. Watch her complete exchange online here: 

Click to watch.

Full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) explained that the problems extend beyond resources. "Severe mental illness is, and should be, a top priority for U.S. public health spending. Unfortunately, the $130 billion a year being spent on mental health surveillance, research, prevention and treatment activities, income support and other social services has not solved the problem."