HHS watchdog says actions should be free from political interference

HHS watchdog says actions should be free from political interference
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The Department of Health and Human Services's (HHS) top watchdog on Tuesday defended her agency's work, saying it needs to be conducted free from political interference.

HHS Principal Deputy Inspector General (IG) Christi Grimm told the House Oversight and Reform Committee during a briefing conducted remotely that the department was "plowing ahead" with 14 different projects to track the administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The watchdog said her office is looking into the role of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in approving, producing and distributing test kits. She also revealed an audit into the Trump administration's disbursement of $50 billion in CARES Act funding to health care providers.

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Grimm, who drew the ire of President Trump when her office found "severe" shortages of medical supplies in hospitals during the height of the pandemic, said Trump's efforts to fire or remove inspectors general will not impact her work.

She said inspectors general act impartially and that independence allows them to "bring their objective judgement to bear" without worrying about politics.

"Anything that is done that could impair independence, I think, compromises the effectiveness of oversight of programs that are there to serve the American public," Grimm said.

In response to a question from Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierProtests force military reckoning on race Air Force documents acknowledged 'persistent' racial bias in justice system HHS watchdog says actions should be free from political interference MORE (D-Calif.) about a "chilling effect" and whether she was concerned about being removed for saying something unpopular, Grimm said no.

"I personally and professionally cannot let the idea of providing unpopular information drive decisionmaking in the work that we do," Grimm said during the remote hearing, which was interrupted by a number of glitches.

Trump has taken issue with various inspectors general during his presidency and has moved to sideline or replace several, including Grimm.

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Grimm's report issued in early April warning about a severe shortage of medical supplies in hospitals during the pandemic sparked fierce pushback from Trump, who compared it to allegations made about his connections to Russia and panned it on Twitter as "Another Fake Dossier."

The report was based on a survey of 323 randomly selected hospitals across the country. It found "severe" shortages of tests and wait times as long as seven days for hospitals. It also found "widespread" shortfalls of protective equipment such as masks for health workers, something that doctors and nurses have also noted for weeks.

Trump spent two days attacking Grimm and the report, calling it "just wrong."

Late at night on May 1, Trump moved to replace Grimm, announcing a new nominee to take the permanent inspector general post. The HHS IG's office had been without a Senate-confirmed nominee since Daniel Levinson stepped down a year ago.

However, unlike other inspectors general who have angered Trump, Grimm has remained in her post while her replacement awaits confirmation.

During the hearing, Grimm defended the hospital report from Republican criticisms that it was produced too quickly and is now outdated.

Grimm admitted the report was “a snapshot in time″ but said it offered “quick and reliable data from the ground” about how hospitals were able to respond during the height of the pandemic.