By ADAM ZAGORIN
At a time of growing suspicion about the way the federal government conducts the people's business, the recent whistleblower allegations related to big-time investors' special access to government information certainly were not heartening. As POGO reported, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) gave lengthy briefings at the request of hedge funds and political intelligence brokers with no discernible benefit to the CMS or the federal government.
Why would CMS do this? Whatever the reason, the whistleblower’s charges are so far undisputed by CMS, which issued a bland statement to POGO saying the meeting in question broke none of the agency’s rules. Yet the meeting did seem to raise a number of obvious and troubling questions. And now, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is trying to get some answers.
In a three-page letter sent this week to the acting administrator of CMS, Grassley declared that the whistleblower’s allegations demonstrated a troubling pattern:
My concern is that these allegations suggest a continuing pattern in which CMS officials...under the cover of reaching out and meeting with stakeholders, have disseminated information to well-connected lobbyists in non-public settings.
The whistleblower said he was told by a supervisor that such meetings are “routine” at CMS.
Grassley also complained that the agency isn’t telling him when it plans to implement a key part of the Affordable Care Act that would reveal payments to doctors and teaching hospital by various vested interests.
As the Senator put it, “It is troubling that it appears that your agency has devoted resources to close-door meetings with hedge funds and political intelligence brokers while it continues to delay implementation of a critical piece of legislation that would improve transparency and open government.”
Grassley wrapped up his love note to CMS with 19 questions, setting the agency a December 28, 2011, deadline. In light of facts put forward by the whistleblower, which CMS has so far not challenged, it looks like a number of these questions may have no good answers.
For example, question fourteen: “What oversight safeguards are employed to ensure that CMS employees do not reveal inside information in these meetings?”
And question fifteen: “What safeguards does CMS place on the information conveyed in meetings so that it is not used for insider trading?”
And so on.
It remains to be seen whether or not the rules, laws, or guidelines were broken, or if they need to be strengthened. CMS's approval—at least as expressed to POGO—of the meeting and others like it, is a problem. Apparently, they are just fine with offering special-access briefings to Wall Street investors with money riding on CMS decisions.
Adam Zagorin is POGO's Journalist-in-Residence.
Photo of the Wall St. bull by Inti.