HHS watchdog defends oversight of agency amid health crisis

Hubert H. Humphrey Federal Building (GSA) 

The watchdog office that oversees the Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday defended recent actions it has taken to monitor how HHS has responded to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed nearly 100,000 American lives as of May 26.

HHS's Office of the Inspector General had published a report on April 6 that noted shortages of personal protective equipment and adequate medical supplies and tests across the country. That report came after the office conducted interviews with personnel at 400 hospitals between March 23 and March 27.

In a remote briefing held with members of the House Oversight Committee on May 26, Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm said the report gave "quick and reliable data from the ground" to HHS and Congress.

Grimm said the OIG had 14 different reviews in the works to monitor HHS's response to the pandemic.

She said the office was in talks with the Department of Homeland Security's OIG to conduct a joint investigation into how the distribution of the national strategic stockpile was conducted.

Grimm said her office was also planning to conduct an audit of the fund that lawmakers established as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that granted $50 billion to healthcare providers.

President Donald Trump publicly criticized Grimm after her office published its report. On May 1, he nominated Jason Weida to be HHS' permanent inspector general.

Democratic lawmakers raised concerns that the administration's actions and rhetoric threatened the independence of IGs, recently put forth legislation to prevent the executive branch from removing IG officials without just cause.

"I cannot let the idea of providing unpopular information drive decision-making in the work that we do," Grimm said in response to a question from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) about whether she was worried that the president's remarks threatened the independence of her office and that of other inspectors general.

Republicans such as Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pushed back in the meeting.

"Any allegation that Christi Grimm was removed or fired for issuing a report is simply incorrect," he said during the briefing.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a former staff writer and associate editor at FCW.


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