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Wednesday
Nov272013

How's This For Transparency?

In an op-ed for Politix today, I write that

The incompetence, dissembling and lack of transparency at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is already well-established. But the degree to which the mess at HHS jeopardizes our health is only beginning to come to light. And it has nothing to do with Obamacare.

Rather, it has to do with how this government is handling what should be the most basic role of a public health agency, preventing deadly communicable diseases such as influenza. Please read the piece and share your opinion on the very active comments section. 

The purpose of this blog item, however, is to share with you the back-story on how the press office at the Obama Department of Health and Human Services performs in terms of the president’s promise to run “the most transparent” government in history. The degree of evasiveness was mind boggling. Here’s just one example.

Last week, by phone, I asked the HHS press office whether the secretary’s April determination about the threat of an emergency was still in effect.

The press office asked me to send in my question in writing. Fair enough.

I did, asking for a response by the end of the following day, to give them both plenty of time (to answer a straight-forward question), but also a deadline, so I could include the department’s response in my piece.

They missed the deadline.

I followed up the missed deadline with another phone call, finally reaching the friendly Director of Communications at the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS.

I made my concerns about the policy clear on the phone, and again sought specific and direct answers to the questions I emailed. 

A central element of my questioning was, as I wrote,
Is the emergency still in effect?  
I was seeking a yes or no answer.
Instead, again missing the second deadline, the spokeswoman responded in writing:
A: The Secretary’s declaration based on this determination has no statutory limit. The Secretary must terminate the declaration if she finds that the circumstances identified in her determination changed, or there has been a change in the approval status of the product so the circumstances identified in her determination have ceased to exist.
Wouldn’t a “yes” have been a bit more direct? It would have been, but it also wouldn’t have served the administration’s narrative as a defense for the policy (or lack of action) I was criticizing in my piece.

As you'll see in the piece, I translated the bureaucracy-talk into English for my readers:

The startling declaration is still in effect, according to an HHS spokeswoman.

So much for transparency.

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