Health and Human Services Watchdog: We Need More Funding for Oversight
The office touts its return on investment, but tells lawmakers that current funding levels don’t keep pace with investigative needs.
The Health and Human Services watchdog is pleading for more funding so it can keep up with COVID-19 and other oversight work.
Over the years, the budget for the Health and Human Services inspector general office, whose responsibilities have expanded due to the pandemic, has not kept pace with that of the department and while they have had a strong return on investment, “with current resources we cannot keep up with the level of threat to HHS, patients and taxpayer dollars,” HHS IG Christi Grimm told lawmakers last week.
With the $514.8 million the Biden administration requested for fiscal 2024, a $82.3 million increase from the enacted fiscal 2023 omnibus, “we would have an opportunity to hire upwards of 150 special agents, digital investigators and support personnel in the first year of this increased funding,” Christian Schrank, HHS deputy IG for investigations, told Government Executive in an interview last week. “This would be an immediate boost for the women and men of this organization and allow us to work [on] those unaddressed matters.”
Moreover, the budget request would advance the IG’s oversight of HHS programs for infants and children; management of contracts and grants; and Medicare and Medicaid programs, the document stated. There is no guarantee the watchdog will receive the requested amount, as White House officials and Democrats will have to negotiate with House Republicans.
IGs must be identified separately in their agency’s budget request and IGs can comment on whether the funding level is sufficient, under the 1978 Inspector General Act.
As documented in the budget request for fiscal 2024, “on average, each of [the HHS IG’s] peers has almost four times the oversight budget as a percentage of respective department spending.”
Additionally, the IG’s spending has not grown as rapidly as HHS spending overall.
Grimm said that the IG’s work in fiscal 2022 resulted in $2.7 billion in investigative recoveries, 1,446 criminal and civil actions, and 2,332 individuals and entities getting excluded from participation in federal health care programs.
However, last year, the watchdog also turned down 648 cases from a coordination effort it has with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Center for Program Integrity to protect against Medicare and Medicaid waste, fraud and abuse. This was almost a 10% increase in the percentage of cases declined from the previous year, Grimm said.
Also, “we are closing approximately 300-400 criminal and civil matters each year due to our lack of resources,” Schrank said. “Each one of these closed cases potentially means that we’re un-addressing fraud and missed opportunities for deterrence.”