House Energy and Commerce Committee members today called on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to address the numerous concerns raised by members of Congress and the HHS Inspector General regarding the seemingly illegal use and waste of taxpayer dollars through the Centers for Disease Control's Communities Putting Prevention to Work program.
The members wrote, "CPPW grants, funded through both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), have been touted by the Obama administration as initiatives designed to improve health outcomes through preventive measures.
"However, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently sent an "Early Alert' letter to CDC Director Thomas Frieden regarding potential "inappropriate lobbying activities using CPPW funds.' The OIG's notice stated that CDC-provided information "appear to authorize, or even encourage, grantees to use grant funds for impermissible lobbying. Furthermore, grantee activity reports posted online make troubling assertions that, on their face, raise the possibility that anti-lobbying provisions were violated.'"
Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) have raised similar concerns both in writing to the CDC and directly to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. During a March 1, 2012, Health Subcommittee hearing, Sebelius failed to adequately answer whether the grants violated current statute. However, HHS and CDC have in other instances touted their oversight efforts and rebuffed any allegation that the grants violated anti-lobbying prohibitions.
"In addition to the serious legal and compliance issues ultimately raised about the CPPW program, we have serious concerns about the integrity and effectiveness of spending in the program. The committee supports the need for preventive initiatives designed to improve health outcomes and reduce chronic disease. However, the apparent lack of attention by HHS officials to grant management may have had the effect of diverting billions in Federal funds from initiatives that actually improve public health. As some of these programs have been in operation for two years, evaluations should be available to determine their effectiveness."
The members requested Sebelius clarify conflicting statements and answers provided by HHS and CDC regarding the interpretation of statute that prohibits the use federal funds for lobbying. In addition, the members requested a copy of all CDC grantee files for CPPW grants, Community Transformation Grants (CTG) grants, and all communications and/or guidance given to HHS and CDC employees and to CPPW and CTG grantees regarding lobbying restrictions.