Rep. Pramila Jayapal on Thursday called for the ouster of Medicare and Medicaid chief Seema Verma following a watchdog's report revealing that the administration official violated federal requirements in her management of over $6 million in contracts.
The report from inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, according to Jayapal (D-Wash.), added more evidence that "Verma has been using government money for her personal benefit" and showed that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator engaged in "the textbook definition of corruption."
The Inspector General's report only adds to what we've long known: Administrator Verma has been using government money for her personal benefit. This is the textbook definition of corruption, and we can't allow it to go unchecked. She must resign or be removed. https://t.co/1tBxxDle5x— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) July 17, 2020
For its audit, the OIG said it looked at three contracts for strategic communications services from June 2017 through April 2019 and found:
CMS allowed a subcontractor individual to perform inherently governmental functions, such as making managerial decisions and directing CMS employees. CMS also administered its strategic communications services contracts as personal services contracts. CMS officials exerted a level of control over the contractors' work that exceeded what is allowed under service contracts; in essence, CMS administered these contracts as if the services had been procured under CMS's statutory authority to contract for experts and consultants. Lastly, CMS did not comply with FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation] requirements in managing contract deliverables and approving the use of a subcontractor, did not maintain complete working files for all three contracts, and paid some questionable costs.
The contacts, as Politico reported Thursday, "ultimately benefited GOP-aligned communications consultants." Or, as Esquire's Charles Pierce put it, the IG findings showed Verma "has been helping various Republican consultants get fat."
Government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) responded to reporting on the inspector general's findings with a tweet Thursday saying, "Reports like this are exactly why we need independent IGs to conduct robust oversight."
The Washington congresswoman joined seven other House Democrats in a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday, writing, "After a 15-month inspector general (IG) investigation, it has now been proven that Verma has consistently shown a lack of good judgement when it comes to responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars."
"She has defied rules, skirted regulations, violated trust, misled Congress, and she must be replaced," the Democrats wrote in the letter, led by Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.).
"Besides arranging contracts with personal friends to raise her profile and thus misspending CMS dollars, the IG investigation identified additional hundreds of thousands of 'questionable costs' all associated with reckless spending," the letter added. "She has put the agency at risk of raud and abuse and therefore she has put the public in jeopardy."
Additional scrutiny came from Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who said in a joint statement Thursday that over "the past year, our offices have been investigating Administrator Verma's use of millions of taxpayer dollars to retain high-end communications consultants to burnish her public profile."
The "report confirms that Administrator Verma and her top officials used contracts in violation of federal regulations and spent taxpayer funds inappropriately to retain these private consultants," the lawmakers continued, adding that their offices would soon release additional findings they claimed would "provide additional details on Administrator Verma's inappropriate use of private consultants for her personal benefit."
Verma, for her part, has rejected the IG's conclusions, calling them "unsubstantiated assumptions and incomplete analyses."
CREW's deputy director Donald Sherman, in a Thursday tweet, hinted at Trump's purge of inspectors general and the important role the watchdogs play in rooting out corruption.
"Inspectors general expose corruption like Verma's," he said. "That's why President Trump hates them so much."