Trump Intends to Nominate an Assistant U.S. Attorney to be HHS Inspector General
The acting HHS watchdog recently came under fire for a report on medical equipment shortages during the pandemic.
On Friday night, President Trump announced his intent to nominate an assistant U.S. attorney to be inspector general for the Health and Human Services Department.
The intended nominee, Jason Weida, has been an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston since 2016. HHS, which is at the center of the federal government’s response to the novel coronavirus, has not had a permanent IG for almost a year. HHS Principal Deputy IG Christi Grimm, who has been running the office since January, yet has worked for the office since 1999, recently came under fire from the president for the office’s report on the vast shortages of medical equipment and supplies during the pandemic at hospitals nationwide. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Grimm will remain principal deputy IG.
Weida served as counsel in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy on detail from April to September 2019. Before his work at the Justice Department, he was a litigation associate at the law firms Jones Day and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “Weida maintained an active docket of pro bono cases, for which his office received the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Certificate of Recognition for Pro Bono Service,” according to the White House. “He has overseen numerous complex investigations in health care and other sectors.”
He also clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Supreme Court. Weida received a bachelor’s degree from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and his law degree from the University of Connecticut.
If confirmed, Weida would be leading the largest federal IG office, which is overseeing the department currently getting scrutinized for its “early missteps” in responding to the pandemic, as The Wall Street Journal reported on April 22. Another watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, reported on April 23 that HHS has 55 priority open recommendations as of April, involving improved oversight of public health programs, information security, the Indian Health Service, and Medicare’s policy and design. Some of them date back to previous presidential administrations.
Recently, several lawmakers made requests for HHS IG investigations. On April 29, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and the committee's Democrats asked for a review of the ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic health care disparities “further expose[d]” by the coronavirus outbreak. Also, on April 23, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asked for a review of Dr. Rick Bright’s reassignment from being director of the agency that is central to vaccine development. Bright blamed political interference for his ouster because he questioned the merits of a drug the president has championed as a possible coronavirus treatment.
During the pandemic there has been an increased focus on inspectors general because of their role in overseeing the government’s spending of trillions of economic relief dollars and response efforts, the president attacking the credibility of various IGs and recent high-profile IG firings.
Following the president railing against Grimm during a briefing on April 6 after reporters asked about her office’s report, Pallone Jr. and Rep. Diana DeGette., D-Colo., called on the HHS secretary to protect the HHS inspector general’s independence. Also, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., introduced the “2020 Inspectors General Independence Act," which would establish seven-year terms for IGs and only allow “for cause” removals in order to prevent politically motivated firings.
The Blue Dog Coalition, composed of 26 “fiscally-responsible” Democrats, announced it endorsed Murphy and Cooper’s legislation on Friday. On a call with reporters on Monday, members spoke about the increased need for inspectors general and their protection during this time. “There’s literally trillions of dollars at stake and the lives and livelihoods of many hard-working Americans, so these ought to be the most closely monitored tax dollars in history,” said Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, co-chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on Fiscal Responsibility and Government Reform.
Cooper, a Blue Dog member, stated the legislation is a “long overdue” reform as many presidents have shown opposition to IGs.
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