WASHINGTON – House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman today sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius expressing concern that HHS is “willfully failing to comply with the Committee’s subpoena” for documents related to HealthCare.gov, and detailing the White House’s involvement in redacting documents without a clear assertion of Executive Privilege.
“The Department’s substantial delay in production, combined with its improper redactions, has obstructed the Committee’s investigation,” the letter states. “The Department’s failure to comply fully hinders the Committee’s constitutional obligation to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch.”
Issa and Sen. Lamar Alexander originally wrote to Sebelius on October 10, 2013 and again on October 24, 2013 requesting documents related to the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov. The Department’s failure to comply with either letter forced Issa to issue a subpoena for the requested documents on October 30, 2013. “[M]ore than six months later, the Department still has not fully complied with the subpoena,” Issa writes. Of the documents that have been produced, “many of these documents contain heavy redactions, and some have been redacted completely. Further, the Department has deliberately withheld key documents responsive to the subpoena from the Committee altogether.”
To justify the redactions, HHS stated that many of the documents contain “executive branch institutional interests.” On February 25, 2014, Committee staff met with representatives of the President’s Office of Counsel, who confirmed that “the White House does in fact have equities in certain documents covered by the subpoena, and that the White House was withholding those documents for further White House review.” The White House’s interest in redacting documents is surprising given statements made by the President in October 2013 downplaying the White House’s involvement in the development and launch of HealthCare.gov. However, communications obtained by the Committee in recent months show that White House officials were briefed on the problems facing the site in a memo produced by HHS in September 2013.
“While the Committee is mindful of the need to balance the interests of two co-equal branches of government, only a valid assertion of executive privilege allows the Department to withhold documents from the Committee,” Issa concludes. “If the President or other senior White House officials considered information about HealthCare.gov prior to its launch that affected the President’s decision-making, there may be a proper invocation of executive privilege that would allow the Department to withhold documents from the Committee. Absent such an assertion, the Department is required to produce all responsive documents to the Committee in unredacted form.”
You can read the entire letter to Secretary Sebelius here.