Senators Request GAO Review of HHS Office of Inspector General over Staffing Changes
Senate Finance Committee members Max Baucus (D-Mont.), John Breaux (D-La.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) yesterday asked the General Accounting Office to conduct a "complete management review" of the HHS Office of Inspector General, specifically examining Senate complaints that "well-respected" senior officials have been "pushed out of their jobs," the AP/Washington Post reports (AP/Washington Post, 10/23). The request comes one day after a group of 12 Democratic House members, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), sent a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson expressing concern about the Bush administration's recent choices for several HHS advisory committees. The letter said that "stacking advisory committees with individuals whose qualifications are ideological rather than scientific will fundamentally undermine the integrity of scientific decision making at our leading public health agencies" (California Healthline, 10/22).
Grassley said he has heard "numerous allegations" from some HHS insiders who have complained about 19 senior-level staff changes, including the departure of all six deputy inspectors general, since HHS Inspector General Janet Rehnquist was appointed by President Bush last year. Grassley said, "I can understand the need to clean house at a place where the wheels have fallen off [but that is not the case here]. I can't overlook the loss of high-ranking government servants with decades of service who have performed their jobs well." Grassley noted that the staffing changes involved "involuntary" retirement or reassignments and that five of the six former deputy inspectors general each had more than 30 years of experience, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports. The senators asked the GAO to examine whether the staff changes are affecting the performance of the office, which is charged with ensuring that HHS programs do not waste funds or break rules. The senators also asked the GAO to look into the office's resource allocation, human resources management, collaboration with law enforcement and management policies. According to the AP/Sun, officials from the office did not respond to the allegations, but Rehnquist, in a letter to the GAO, wrote, "I am confident that your findings will further illustrate [the office of the inspector general's] many successes." HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce said Rehnquist is doing a "great job when it comes to fraud investigations" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.