TOM COBURN: Accuses San Francisco AIDS Group of Possible Fraud
Rep. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) has launched a crusade against Eileen Hansen, public policy director for the San Francisco-based AIDS Legal Referral Panel, over its alleged misuse of $200,000 in Ryan White CARE Act funds, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Hansen will likely resign from her post at the end of this week to focus on her campaign for a spot on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In a battle of letters and press releases, Coburn declared that the ALRP "clearly violated federal law" by allegedly using federal funds for lobbying purposes. He sent a letter on Aug. 11 to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, urging her to audit the group (8/17). Coburn wrote: "I find it appalling that an organization receiving over $200,000 in CARE Act funds is misusing these federal resources while others are left to die" (Coburn letter, 8/11). Hansen called Coburn's letter "inappropriate." In a letter to the Oklahoma congressman, she wrote: "To allege that [the ALRP has] used CARE dollars 'illegally' and [has] 'clearly violated federal law,' and to ask Secretary Shalala to permanently prohibit us 'from receiving any future federal funds' is extremely unfair and appallingly inaccurate." (ALRP letter, 8/11). On Wednesday, Hansen said that the ALRP public policy program is funded through private grants, "as it has been for years." She said, "I'm not aware of any organization that does public policy work that would use Ryan White dollars for it." In addition, Hansen said she welcomes an audit.
According to Hansen, Coburn's recent assault on the ALRP stems from a "political disagreement" over a proposed CARE Act provision that calls for financial incentives for states requiring newborns to receive HIV testing. Coburn favors the measure, while Hansen opposes it. In a news released issue Aug. 7, Hansen "denounc[ed]" the testing provision, which Coburn inserted into the House CARE Act reauthorization bill. "Mandatory testing of any individual or population is unnecessary, inappropriate and is not in the best interest of serving the public health," she wrote. According to ALRP Executive Director Bill Hirsh, Hansen's resignation "has nothing to do with the dispute" (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/17).