A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services watchdog reported that Seema Verma, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services chief, mishandled millions of dollars in federal contracts that ultimately benefited friends and former Trump officials.
The Office of Inspector General Report concluded Verma violated federal contracting rules by steering millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts that ultimately benefited GOP-aligned communications consultants. The contracts were only halted after an investigation by POLITICO raised concerns about the legality of the contracts.
Between June 2017 and April 2019, $6.4 million in communications and outreach contracts had been misappropriated, said the OIG. The 70-page report (the result of a 15-month audit) called on HHS and CMS to take action to address the significant deficiencies that it identified. Investigators concluded Verma used federal contracts to install allies who managed high-priority projects and exercised broad authority within CMS, and funded projects that ethics experts have said wasted taxpayers’ money.
The investigation also found that CMS allowed contractors to make managerial decisions and direct agency employees, and that the agency managed the contracts as personal services contracts. By doing so, CMS created the appearance of an employer-employee relationship between the government and contractor personnel.
The Inspector General wrote,
CMS improperly administered the contracts and created improper employer-employee relationships between CMS and the contractors. CMS’s administration of these contracts put the Government at increased risk for waste and abuse.
Verma is prominent leader of the White House coronavirus task force, overseeing billions of dollars in emergency payments to doctors and hospitals. She also runs the nation’s largest health care safety-net programs — Medicare and Medicaid — in addition to overseeing the Affordable Care Act.
Verma spent more than a year defending the contracts, testifying to Congress that they were consistent with previous communications arrangements and focused on promoting the agency, but the inspector general concluded that Verma and her team did not administer and manage the contracts in accordance with Federal requirements.
Health and Human Services, led by Alex Azar, agreed with the OIG’s findings, but CMS, led by Verma disagreed claiming the agency has “deep concerns” with the report’s conclusions, which “are based on unsubstantiated assumptions and incomplete analysis.”
The OIG’s conclusions are based on a few handpicked email records, which the OIG did not even attempt to substantiate by interviewing all of the subcontractor employees in question.
Verma also questioned the report’s timing,
As the entire country is dealing with a national public health emergency, CMS staff should be solely focused on responding to an unprecedented global pandemic, but instead had to spend precious time responding to the numerous mischaracterizations and technical inaccuracies in the OIG’s findings and conclusions.
Read the full audit from the Office of Inspector General
Read the full article from AP
Read the full article from POLITICO
Read the full article from McKnight’s