By Jonathan Easley - 01/15/14 09:43 PM EST
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius late Wednesday accusing her agency of planning scheduling conflicts to avoid briefing his committee on ObamaCare.
The letter said HHS had committed to briefing Oversight on documents pertaining to the security testing of HealthCare.gov last week. Issa said HHS reached out to him this afternoon proposing an 8:15 a.m. briefing on Thursday morning, which he says he declined in light of his 9:30 a.m. hearing on the matter.
HHS spokesman Joanne Peters said in a statement to The Hill that the agency has been working to brief Issa on a number of matters as quickly as possible.
“In various letters to Chairman Issa, we noted that given the concerns that have been raised about the sensitivity of these documents, we would work to schedule a briefing as soon as possible,” she said. “We regret that the Chairman's schedule did not allow for a briefing tomorrow, but look forward to continuing to work with his office to set up this briefing.”
In addition, Issa said HHS turned down his request to have HHS Chief Information Officer Frank Baitman testify at Thursday’s hearing because they were given only 36 hours notice.
“On one hand, HHS believes it is unreasonable for the Committee to request the testimony of HHS’s Chief Information Officer on 36 hours notice, yet you propose a Committee briefing – for multiple elected officials in a secure environment – on 18 hours notice,” he continued.
However, HHS sent a letter to Issa late Wednesday saying Baitman would be available for testimony, although the agency bemoaned the burdens the short notice imposed on him and his staff.
“We believe that this request is unreasonable and inappropriate given the 36 hours notice, the fact that Mr. Baitman has just provided you … and your staff with a day-long transcribed interview, and the fact that Mr. Baitman would have to spend additional time away from his important work he needs to do as CIO for the department during a very crucial time,” the letter reads in part.
In the letter, HHS noted that its officials have already testified at more than 50 hearings, that Baitman’s role regarding HealthCare.gov was limited, and that he would not have the opportunity to review a transcript of his own testimony before appearing before the panel.
Issa’s letter is the latest in a long line of disputes between himself and HHS. Most recently, Issa accused Sebelius of providing “false and misleading” testimony to Congress and threatened to open an investigation.
The long-running feud flared anew in January, after the administration allowed the Oversight Committee to review documents from the ObamaCare contractor MITRE Corp. in a secure room, but refused to hand over hard copies to Issa.
MITRE Corp. said the documents included “software code and other technical information that is highly sensitive and could give hackers a roadmap to compromise the security of the website and the personal information of consumers.”
Democrats said Issa couldn’t be trusted with them because he has a history of leaks. Issa eventually obtained the documents through a subpoena.
The Obama administration and Democrats on the Oversight Committee have accused Issa of selectively leaking sensitive documents for political gain, and have raised concerns about the security of documents he’s obtained through subpoena.
“I can only hope that your concerns about the handling of sensitive documents are sincere and not just a ploy intended to distract from a serious discussion with your agency’s security experts about bypassed objections to the launch of HealthCare.gov scheduled for tomorrow,” Issa said in his Wednesday letter.
HHS and Cummings have been pressuring Issa to meet with them about implementing security protocols around the documents, but say he has not responded.
“As we have said a number of times, we have offered to brief the Chairman on our concerns regarding the sensitive security information contained in documents that he has subpoenaed from security contractors,” Peters said. “It is the view of both MITRE, the security contractor, and cybersecurity experts from across the Administration that these documents, if further disclosed, would provide information to potential hackers that increases the risk that they could penetrate healthcare.gov, the Hub and other Federal IT systems.”
HHS Chief Information Security Officer Kevin Charest and Teresa Fryer, the Chief Information Security Officer for the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services will testify before Oversight on Thursday about security concerns surrounding HealthCare.gov before its October launch.
This story was updated at 10:55 p.m.