WASHINGTON — Top congressional Republicans criticized the Department of Health and Human Services for instructing employees to inform the agency before communicating independently with Congress.
In a letter to Secretary Tom Price date May 4, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, warned that the HHS guidance will take away protection for whistleblowers.
Both lawmakers say in the letter:
“The attached memorandum contains no exception whatsoever for lawful, protected communications with Congress,” Grassley and Chaffetz wrote. “In its current form, employees are likely to interpret it as a prohibition, and will not necessarily understand their rights.”
“These provisions are significant because they ensure that attention can be brought to problems in the Executive Branch that need to be fixed. Protecting whistleblowers who courageously speak out is not a partisan issue – it is critical to the functioning of our government.”
“In order to correct this potential violation of federal law, we request that as soon as possible you issue specific written guidance to all agency employees making them aware of their right to communicate directly and independently with Congress. Such guidance should inform employees of the whistleblower protections that apply, and make clear that the agency will not retaliate against any employee who chooses to exercise these rights. Once you have issued this guidance, please provide the Committees with a copy.”
The memorandum, sent by HHS Chief of Staff Lance Leggitt, describes protocols that Heads of Operating Divisions and Heads of Staff Divisions are to follow when it comes to congressional relations.
Leggitt writes on behalf of Secretary Price, “To ensure that our efforts are coordinated, any communications with Members of Congress and staff should not occur without prior consultation with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation (ASL). This includes requests for calls, meetings, briefings, technical assistance, policy development, hearings, oversight, detailees, etc. The ASL is responsible for ensuring Secretary Price’s involvement on appropriate matters.”
Leggitt adds, “Please instruct your staff to adhere to this procedure. Your cooperation will help us avoid unnecessary problems in our relationships with Congress. I appreciate your support.”