|Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
SEBELIUS TELLS CONTRACTORS NOT TO TALK TO CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATORS; ISSA WARNS HER THAT'S A CRIME...
The Chairman of the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Representative Darrel Issa has been conducting an investigation of the Obama Administration's roll-out of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), and in doing so has requested information from the companies that the government contracted to do work on the HealthCare.gov website.
According to Issa, the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, has "...instructed those companies not to comply with the Investigative Committee's request..." for that information.
In a tersely worded letter to Sebelius, Issa stated that "...The Department's hostility toward questions from Congress and the media about the implementation of ObamaCare is well known...The Department's most recent effort to stonewall, however, has morphed from mere obstinacy into criminal obstruction of a congressional investigation..."
Issa referred to a December 6, 2013 letter from the Department of Health and Human Services to the contractor, Creative Computing Solutions, Inc. (CCSI), in which HHS claimed the company is contractually precluded from producing documents to Congress. Issa asserts that the letter further stated that HHS will respond to requests from Congress on the company's behalf:
"...It is my understanding that CCSI was not the only contractor to receive a letter like this...The letter to CCSI stated that the company is: '[N]ot authorized to disclose to third parties information collected or maintained by or on behalf of a federal agency, including information collected, or information produced during security testing...If you receive a request for this information from Congress, CMS will respond directly to the requestor and will work with the requestor to address its interests in this information..."
|Congressman Darrell Issa (Photo credit: stanfordcis)|
Issa declares in the letter to Sebelius that the language in the contract between the government (HHS) and the private contractor, which purports to supersede Congress' "...constitutional prerogative to conduct oversight--is without merit..."
"...In fact, it strains credulity to such an extent that it creates the appearance that the Department is using the threat of litigation to deter private companies from cooperating with Congress..." said Issa.
"...The Department's attempt to threaten CCSI for the purpose of deterring the company from providing documents to Congress places the officials responsible for drafting and sending the letter on the wrong side of federal statutes that prohibit obstruction of a congressional investigation...Obstructing a Congressional investigation is a crime..." he writes.
Issa then instructs Sebelius on federal obstruction laws.
"...Congress' right of access to information is constitutionally based and critical to the integrity and effectiveness of our oversight and investigative activities...For that reason, it is widely understood that private citizens and companies cannot contract away their duty to comply with a congressional request for documents...[T]he Department's instruction to CCSI and other contractors not to respond to congressional document requests runs afoul of a federal statute that prohibits interfering with an employees' right to furnish information to Congress. Under that statute, any effort to enforce a contract that prevents a federal employee -- or in this case, a contractor -- from communicating with Congress is unlawful..."
Issa essentially reads Sebelius the "Riot Act," when he quotes the law that prohibits, and makes it a crime to obstruct a Congressional investigation:
"...Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both..."
Issa tells Sebelius that Congressional Committee investigators take any effort to obstruct or otherwise interfere with its investigations very seriously, and requests that she:
"...direct all employees in your Department to cease obstructing the Committee's investigation of the implementation of the ACA through HealthCare.gov..."
Issa reminds Sebelius that an October 30, 2013 subpoena issued to her, that would "capture" the information he requested from contractors, is still in effect, and asserts that "...The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee of the House of Representatives and has broad authority to investigate 'any matter' at 'any time' under House Rule X..." which states that "... The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform shall review and study on a continuing basis the operation of Government activities at all levels with a view to determining their economy and efficiency..."