Top Dems seeks answers from HHS on ethics lapses

Top Dems seeks answers from HHS on ethics lapses
© Greg Nash

A top House Democrat wants answers from the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about how he plans to combat repeated ethical lapses throughout the agency.

In a letter, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse reaches deal on continuing resolution, vote expected Thursday Democrats hold first hearing in push for clean energy by 2050 EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns MORE (D-N.J.) asked HHS Secretary Alex Azar to commit to “performing a top-down review of HHS and each of its operating divisions to determine the extent to which the Department is abiding by all applicable federal ethical regulations and policies.”

Pallone is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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Over the course of the past year, two senior HHS officials have been forced to resign due to ethics violations and conflicts of interest.

Former Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceTom Price: The fiscal crisis at hand The Hill's Morning Report — Hurricane headed for Florida changes Trump's travel plans The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks MORE resigned after it was revealed he used taxpayer dollars to charter private planes for official travel.

At the end of January, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Brenda FitzgeraldBrenda FitzgeraldOvernight Health Care: Drug company under scrutiny for Michael Cohen payments | New Ebola outbreak | FDA addresses EpiPen shortage CDC director to take pay cut of more than 5k CDC director asks for salary reduction after questions raised MORE resigned following reports that she traded shares of tobacco, drug and food companies one month into her tenure as head of the agency.

Pallone also expressed concern that HHS used taxpayer dollars to promote Republican-backed legislation to repeal ObamaCare. Pallone noted that under Price’s leadership, official HHS social media accounts were used to promote the American Health Care Act while it was being debated in Congress.

“The Department’s mission touches the lives of every person in this country, and the American people deserve to be served by public officials who have the highest regard for ethics, transparency and accountability,” Pallone wrote. 

“The numerous ethical lapses and potential conflicts of interest described above deserve your immediate attention as the newly-confirmed HHS Secretary,” Pallone added. 

Pallone asked Azar to give specific answers about how the agency will ensure that public officials aren’t subject to conflicts of interest like Fitzgerald, as well as how it is ensuring the “ethical stewardship of American taxpayer dollars at HHS and each of its operating divisions.”