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Pallone and DeGette Call on Azar to Protect Independence of HHS Office of Inspector General

Apr 14, 2020
Press Release
“HHS OIG’s ongoing work, including its oversight of the Administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, must continue unimpeded by political interference or threats of reprisal.”

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) wrote to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar today expressing their escalating concerns with the Trump Administration’s commitment to the independence of the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).  The two Committee leaders also wrote that they expect HHS to continue cooperating fully with HHS OIG’s audits and investigations.

Last week, consistent with its statutory mission, HHS OIG released a report detailing ways in which hospitals are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Among other things, the report identified serious challenges facing hospitals and presented hospitals’ suggestions for ways the federal government could better assist in their COVID-19 response efforts.

“These on-the-ground insights provide valuable information to Congress, the Administration, and the public as we work to calibrate a robust response to the coronavirus crisis,” Pallone and DeGette wrote.  “In short, HHS OIG’s report is precisely the type of independent oversight we need during these challenging times.”

Rather than utilizing the report to inform the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump quickly moved to discredit it, stating, without evidence, that the report was “wrong” and falsely suggesting that its findings were influenced by political considerations.  The next day, Trump continued his meritless attacks, tweeting—without any basis—that the report was “fake” and dishonestly suggesting that the HHS Principal Deputy Inspector General had political motivations.

“These baseless attacks, by themselves, severely undermine the ability of HHS OIG to operate independently,” Pallone and DeGette continued.  “Now more than ever, [Inspectors General] must be permitted to conduct independent oversight—especially HHS OIG, which oversees the federal agency principally responsible for protecting our nation’s public health during the coronavirus pandemic.  HHS OIG’s ongoing work, including its oversight of the Administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, must continue unimpeded by political interference or threats of reprisal.”

The Energy and Commerce Committee leaders concluded their letter by calling on Secretary Azar to protect HHS OIG’s independence.

“We call on HHS to ensure that the long-recognized principle of OIG independence remains respected, and we expect your Department to cooperate fully and openly with all OIG evaluations, audits, and investigations.  We are watching the Administration’s actions toward HHS OIG closely,” the members concluded.

Inspectors General (IGs) are independent, nonpartisan officials charged with detecting waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the federal government.  In fiscal year 2019 alone, HHS OIG produced over $6.6 billion in expected audit and investigative recoveries and potential savings.

Last week, the chairs of multiple House Committees sent a letter to the chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency condemning President Donald Trump’s assault on IGs and requesting direct input on legislative and other proposals to increase the independence of IGs and protect them from retaliation.

Read the letter to Secretary Azar HERE.

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