FEDweek

Oversight Panel Chairman Admonishes HHS on Responsiveness

In unusually harsh terms from the chairman of a congressional committee to the leadership of a federal agency of the same party, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., has criticized HHS for lack of responsiveness to a string of information requests from his Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“More often than not, agency respondents choose to cooperate voluntarily, expeditiously, and in good faith with our requests for information. Of late, this is not the case with the Department of Health and Human Services,” he wrote to newly installed Secretary Alex Azar.

“Rather than work in good faith to accommodate the Committee’s oversight and investigative requirements and constitutional prerogatives, and despite the committee’s effort to accommodate HHS’s legitimate interests, the Department has missed mutually-agreed deadlines, produced meager and incomplete sets of information (much of which is available publicly), and taken a posture of nonchalance with respect to the committee’s requests,” he wrote.

He cited requests for information on topics including federal disaster preparedness and response in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands; the Medicare Part D program and opioid addiction; cost-sharing payments; guidance documents.

To the extent that the department responded at all, he said, in some cases it was “after grumbling” and the agency produced only documents that were readily available on the Internet. He said that if the department does not respond quickly or show good reason why it can’t, “the committee may use compulsory process to obtain those materials”–a reference to a subpoena.

The ranking committee Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, meanwhile has asked Gowdy to issue a subpoena to require HHS to respond to a request of last May for information on whistleblower retaliation and gag orders on employees. That request was bipartisan, joined by the chairman of the committee at the time, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.