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House oversight chairman: HHS not cooperating with information requests

By
Allen Cone
Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary, delivers remarks alongside President Donald Trump after being sworn-in during a ceremony in the Roosevelt Room at The White House in Washington, DC, January 29, 2018. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI
Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary, delivers remarks alongside President Donald Trump after being sworn-in during a ceremony in the Roosevelt Room at The White House in Washington, DC, January 29, 2018. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- The chairman of the House Oversight Committee said the Department of Health and Human Services is not fully cooperating with requests for information about the ongoing opioid epidemic, and threatened to issue a subpoena.

Trey Gowdy, R-S.C, sent a four-page letter to Alex Azar dated Monday, the day he was sworn in as the department's secretary. Azar was confirmed last week to replace Tom Price, who resigned in September after he spent $1 million in government funds to use private chartered plane flights.

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Calling the opioid use "a significant public health crisis," Gowdy noted the HHS is unable to identify and produce documents to assist the committee's efforts dealing with the epidemic.

In the letter, Gowdy cited numerous other requests he said the department has ignored since October, including information on disaster preparedness and response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Medicare Part D and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA.

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"Rather than work in good faith to accommodate the committee's oversight and investigative requirements and constitutional prerogatives, and despite the committee's effort to accommodate HHS's legitimate interests, the department has missed mutually-agreed deadlines, produced meager and incomplete sets of information [much of what is available publicly], and taken a posture of nonchalance with respect to the committee's requests," Gowdy wrote.

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"The department's pattern of nonresponsiveness and wanton disregard for the committee's requests for information undermines our ability to perform our oversight duties of the department and its programs.

In the letter, Gowdy requested the department produce the requested documents and information no later than Monday "or immediately tender a legitimate, legal basis for withholding them from the Committee. Otherwise, the Committee may use compulsory process to obtain those materials."

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Because the department hasn't given a compelling reason why the material is being withheld, he wrote "this creates the appearance the department's legislative affairs function has fallen into a state of permanent disrepair."

Also, the committee's ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland also asked Gowdy to subpoena HHS for information related to reports that the agency's reported use of nondisclosure agreements.

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