Bi-Partisan Congressional Committees Demand CMS Administrator Repay Misspent Funds

Sep 16, 2020 | CMS, Regulatory | 0 comments

his month, two House committees and two Senate committees published a report of a joint investigation into Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma’s spending of taxpayer funds. The complete 56-page report is available in our “Partner News” section in the footer of our web site. For convenience, we reprint highlights from the report’s Executive Summary here.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Senate Committee on Finance Minority, and Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Minority (the Committees) conducted a year-long investigation into Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma’s use of taxpayer funds to retain communications consultants with strong Republican political ties.

The Committees’ investigation shows that Administrator Verma and her top aides abused the federal contracting process to stock CMS with handpicked Republican consultants who billed the government hourly rates of up to $380. In less than two years, Administrator Verma’s consultants charged CMS nearly $6 million for work that included boosting her public profile and personal brand, serving as her preferred communications advisors, arranging private meetings for her with media personalities and other high-profile individuals, and routinely traveling with her to events across the country. By retaining these consultants, Administrator Verma misused funds appropriated by Congress, wasting taxpayer dollars intended to support federal health care programs.

The evidence obtained by the Committees expands on the findings of a recent audit conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) and demonstrates that Administrator Verma’s expenditures potentially exceeded the scope of CMS’s authority under the applicable appropriations. Congress appropriated taxpayer funds to CMS to ensure that Americans have access to and are aware of opportunities to enroll in federal health care programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. Congress did not intend for Administrator Verma or other senior CMS officials to use taxpayer dollars to stockpile CMS with handpicked consultants or promote Administrator Verma’s public profile and personal brand. Given the reckless disregard she has shown for the public’s trust, Administrator Verma should reimburse the taxpayers for these inappropriate expenditures.

During the course of the investigation, the Committees obtained tens of thousands of pages of documents from HHS and private parties, conducted interviews and briefings with employees and executives from two of the consulting firms used by CMS, and collected additional information from databases, court records, and press reports, among other sources. The Committees’ investigation shows:


    • Administrator Verma and her top aides misused federal contracts CMS held with consulting firms to bring handpicked Republican communications consultants into CMS operations.
    • Administrator Verma and her top aides built a shadow operation that sidelined CMS’s Office of Communications in favor of the handpicked consultants.
    • Consultants — particularly Pam Stevens — worked to promote Administrator Verma’s public profile and personal brand beyond her role as CMS Administrator, while also expanding the Administrator’s network.
    • Administrator Verma’s consultants charged CMS nearly $6 million in less than two years.
    • After CMS issued a stop-work order in April 2019, consulting firm Porter Novelli continued working for CMS under other task orders to pitch profile pieces on Administrator Verma to media outlets, including lifestyle magazines targeted in Pam Stevens’s Executive Visibility Proposal.
  • OIG issued an audit on July 16, 2020 (OIG Audit) containing findings consistent with the Committees’ investigation and concluding that CMS violated federal contracting requirements. The OIG Audit, which was requested by the Committees, found:
      • Administrator Verma and senior CMS officials allowed consultant Marcus Barlow to perform inherently governmental functions, such as making managerial decisions and directing CMS employees, thereby violating the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).
      • CMS improperly administered certain contracts it held with consulting firms as personal services contracts. In doing so, CMS officials exerted a level of control over the consultants’ work that created an improper employer-employee relationship, exceeding what was permissible under the contracts.
    • CMS did not comply with the FAR and other federal requirements in managing contract deliverables, approving the use of a subcontractor, maintaining complete working files, and paying questionable

©2020 by Rowan Consulting Associates, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO. This article originally appeared in Home Care Technology: The Rowan Report. Click here to subscribe. It may be freely reproduced provided this copyright statement remains intact.