House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has had a bully pulpit from which to criticize the square-wheeled rollout of Obamacare. But his rhetoric is escalating. Now, he’s not just calling the Department of Health and Human Services inept — he’s calling it criminal. He may be right.
Wednesday’s dodgy, evasive testimony from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, combined with continued stonewalling from third parties hired to steer the Healthcare.gov website, prompted Issa to send Sebelius a letter essentially accusing her department of a crime.
Issa’s angry letter states HHS is willfully blocking Congressional oversight by compelling contractors like Creative Computing Solutions, the Maryland-based company tasked with developing portions of Healthcare.gov, not to answer any questions from the Oversight Committee.
From the letter:
Pursuant to the Committee’s oversight I requested relevant documents from several companies that contracted with the Department of Health and Human Services for work related to the Healthcare.gov website. The Department subsequently instructed those companies not to comply with the Committee’s request. 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.
In a December 6, 2013, letter to Creative Computing Solutions, Inc. (CCSI), the Department [HHS] claimed that the company is contractually precluded from producing documents to Congress. The letter further stated that the Department 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:
[Not] 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 [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] will respond directly to the requestor and will work with the requestor to address its interests in this information.
…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.
Issa then provides the relevant portion of the statute: Section 1505 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code:
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…
Issa said CMS, under the chain of command leading up to Sebelius, had essentially “threatened” CCSI and other companies by implying legal action would ensue if the companies lawfully handed over documents subpoenaed by the Oversight Committee. Issa said it “strains credulity” to think that Sebelius really believes that a “… contract between the Department [HHS] and a private company [that] supersedes Congress’ constitutional prerogative to conduct oversight” is anything but bogus.