HHS Secretary called out for criminal obstruction by House Oversight

According to the Associated Press, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius thinks somebody ought to get to the bottom of that disastrous ObamaCare rollout.  She’s calling for an investigation into how unnamed presidents and cabinet secretaries could have bungled it so badly:

Recognizing that deeper problems may lurk behind the botched rollout of the health care website, President Barack Obama’s top health official Wednesday called for an investigation into management and contracting decisions.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog post early Wednesday that she is asking the department’s inspector general to investigate the contracting process, management, performance and payment issues that may have contributed to the flawed launch of

The website was supposed to have been the online portal to coverage under the new health care law, but technical problems turned it into a frustrating bottleneck for millions of consumers. It’s working better now after two months of repairs.

Great, so Frankenstein’s Monster managed to drag himself over that knee-high bar of “working better” than he was before lightning hit the bolts in his neck.  But the House Oversight Committee doubts Secretary Sebelius’ enthusiasm for a real investigation, since she’s been engaged in possibly criminal activity to keep the contractors who designed quiet.

As House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) said in a letter sent to Sebelius today, HHS “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.”

At issue is a letter HHS sent to Creative Computing Solutions, Inc. – and apparently several other contractors – claiming “the company is contractually precluded from producing documents to Congress.”  The companies were informed that Health and Human Services, specifically the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, would handle all congressional requests for information.

But as Issa points out, the contract prohibited these companies from sharing information with third parties, not Congress.  “That argument – that the language in the contract between the Department and a private company supersedes Congress’ constitutional prerogative to conduct oversight – is without merit,” Issa wrote.  “In fact, it strains credulity to such an extent that it creates the appearance that the Department is using the threat of litigation to deter private companies from cooperating with Congress.”

One supposes the response will invoke the special Incompetence Defense developed by the Obama Administration, in which high officials claim they have no idea how the law works, or what anyone in their department has been doing… not in their letters of resignation, but as a reason not to fire them.  The idea is that we’re not supposed to get angry at them, because they didn’t know what they were doing, and take pity upon them because they’re not very good at their jobs.

But as Issa points out, under federal statues, obstructing a Congressional investigation is a crime, violating both the statutes concerning congressional investigative powers, and those protecting whistleblowers.  “The federal obstruction laws reflect the fact that Congress’ right of access to information is constitutionally based and critical to the integrity and effectiveness of our oversight and investigative activities,” Issa writes.  “For that reason, it is widely understood that private citizens and companies cannot contract away their duty to comply with a congressional request for documents.”

Did anyone really not understand that?  I’ll bet officials from past Administrations are kicking themselves for not making everybody sign a contract that says they can’t talk to Congress.

Issa stops just short of lowering the boom on Sebelius in his letter, requesting that she direct all HHS employees to “cease obstructing the [House Oversight] Committee’s investigation into the implementation of the Affordable Care Act through”  He also tells her to refrain from further communication with the contractors, and reminds her that everything his committee wanted to see from them is covered by the October 30 subpoena issued to the HHS Secretary.  The charges leveled earlier in the letter would seem to warrant something more than a warning to knock it off, pronto, but perhaps House Oversight is primarily interested in gaining access to whatever Sebelius didn’t want them to see, and Issa’s letter was intended to send certain signals to the contractors.

Update: I originally titled this post “HHS Secretary accused of criminal obstruction by House Oversight,” but I decided to change it because that’s a pretty strong word.  On the other hand, Issa does pretty clearly accuse her of it in the letter… he just doesn’t follow through with any charges or “please prove you didn’t do this” requirements with a cutoff date.  I guess it would be fair enough to say the accusation has been made without charges being filed.  It’s all rather peculiar, unless one supposes that Issa expects a much larger shoe to drop in the very near future.