Grassley Releases Report on Lack of Inspector General Oversight

at the International Trade Commission

WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today released a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the lack of Inspector General (IG) oversight at the International Trade Commission (ITC).  Although, the Inspector General Act requires that agencies appoint an IG to detect waste, fraud, and abuse, the ITC failed to fill the position for more than four years.  Instead, the GAO report found, ITC relied on "acting" and "temporary" appointments for most of the period between November 2005 and December 2009.  For 17 months during that time, ITC operated with neither an acting nor a temporary IG, according to the GAO report.

"Agencies need to understand that Inspector General oversight is not optional," Grassley said.  "The law requires that they have an IG on the job and that the IG be given the resources and access to information necessary to do the job.  The ITC needs to finish implementing the GAO's recommendations for corrective action as soon as possible to ensure that there is adequate oversight of the agency from now on."

GAO also found that the ITC failed to support the temporary and acting IGs with policies and procedures to ensure access to agency records.  The ITC failed to provide notice and coordination with the temporary IG on a criminal referral to the Justice Department.  And, the ITC kept the IG's budget flat while its own budget increased by 23 percent.

Grassley is ranking member of the Committee on Finance, with jurisdiction over international trade, and a long-time advocate for inspectors general.

The GAO report on the ITC is available here.

Report Highlights Need for Better Accountability and Transparency
in Private Investment Firm Ownership of Nursing Homes

Washington, DC - Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health Chairman Pete Stark (D-CA) released a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report today on the need for greater transparency regarding companies' ownership of nursing homes.  Baucus, Grassley and Stark requested the report, titled "Complexity of Private Investment Purchases Demonstrates Need for CMS to Improve the Usability and Completeness of Ownership Data."  The report highlights the increasing rate at which private investment firms are purchasing nursing homes and the lack of transparency in nursing home ownership arrangements that often results.  The lack of clear ownership information makes it difficult for consumers and regulators to know who owns the nursing home and who bears responsibility for decision-making affecting quality of care and to hold those responsible parties accountable.  Baucus, Grassley and Stark have long worked to improve the accountability of nursing home owners across the country in an effort to protect Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and taxpayer dollars.  The lawmakers have requested a subsequent GAO report that will evaluate the relationship between these corporate structures and the quality of care provided to nursing home residents.

"Nursing home residents and their families deserve to know the full story about who is ultimately responsible for their care," said Baucus.  "Federal health care officials need full and detailed information so they can properly oversee these nursing homes and hold the correct parties accountable for keeping patients safe and well-cared for.  The new health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, works to address some of the problems highlighted in today's report by significantly increasing transparency and shedding light on the ownership and safety of nursing homes.  We will continue to keep a close eye on the implementation of these transparency measures to ensure we have a clear picture of who is accountable for the quality of care in nursing homes."

"I've been fighting for greater transparency and accountability for nursing home residents and their families for more than decade," Grassley said.  "This report provides further evidence of what we already knew - that the federal government needs to do a better job giving nursing home residents -- including Medicare beneficiaries - complete, accurate and timely information so they can make the right choices when choosing a nursing home.  I'll continue my vigorous oversight to hold the system accountable.  We owe that to nursing home residents."

"This GAO report found that a handful of private equity firms have been buying up nursing homes over the past decade - leaving seniors and their loved ones in the dark about who is making the decisions about their care," said Stark.  "New disclosure requirements in the health reform law will shed light on who owns nursing homes, who is making care decisions, and how these facilities are being run.  I intend to monitor CMS's progress in implementing the law, and look forward to a future report on the relationship between ownership and quality of care."

The GAO report details how private investment firms acquired 1,876 nursing homes from 1998 to 2008, with ten large firms accounting for 89 percent of the purchases. According to the report, then-current law did not require sufficient disclosure of information on multi-home chains and led to a lack of accountability across the industry.  The three lawmakers noted that provisions enacted into law in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provide CMS an opportunity to address these shortcomings and may be the solution to problems identified in the GAO report.  Specifically, the Affordable Care Act requires nursing homes to provide information to state and federal health officials about the facility's ownership, governing body and organizational structure.  The new law also increases transparency of information related to nursing home staffing, certifications, complaints, criminal violations and expenditures, including wages and benefits for staff.  This increased transparency will help improve patient care by making clear who is ultimately responsible for keeping patients safe and well cared for.    The three lawmakers will be monitoring CMS's efforts to improve transparency as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and as recommended in the GAO report.  Today's GAO report is available here.



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Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Committee on Finance, today made the following comment on a report released from the Government Accountability Office, "Tax Debt Collection: IRS Could Improve Future Studies by Establishing Appropriate Guidance."  The report is available here.  Grassley has written to the IRS regarding private contractors for debt collection. The March 5, 2009, IRS response to Grassley is available here.  The May 6, 2009, IRS response to Grassley is available here.

"According to this report, the IRS used a flawed study to justify ending its contracts with private agencies to collect owed taxes that the IRS wasn't collecting on its own.  The IRS knew the study was flawed because the GAO told the IRS how to do the study.  But the IRS didn't implement the GAO's recommendations to fix the study, even though it agreed with them.  The IRS used the results from the defective cost-effectiveness study to defend its decision to terminate the use of private collection agencies, even though that wasn't the primary purpose of the study.

"Union advocates, including members of Congress, Obama administration officials and the taxpayer advocate, tried to tell the public that IRS employees could collect the tax debts cheaper and better than private employees.  Yet, the IRS' own information shows that the fledgling pilot program was returning money to the Treasury and that private employees' quality ratings were consistently higher than that of IRS employees.  Union supporters' successful disinformation campaign ultimately hurts other taxpayers, as private agencies were collecting dollars that the IRS wasn't and isn't going to collect anyway."

"The IRS used a poor study to secure a task it said it could perform but hasn't.   As of the most recent fiscal year, unpaid tax debts equal $328.1 billion. Only $120.4 billion of that amount is deemed potentially collectible and IRS is not actively pursuing $27.4 billion that it says is collectible. These are significant increases from when GAO first started tracking these numbers.  So, not only has the IRS made no progress in reducing unpaid tax debt, but also we're worse off every year."

"Private collection agencies were supposed to help the IRS collect debts that it couldn't or wouldn't collect on its own. And, despite the IRS' announcement last year that it would be dedicating IRS resources to working cases that the private agencies would have worked, GAO tells us today that that isn't the case. At the same time, the number of hours IRS employees dedicate to union activity at the office, on the taxpayer's dime, is significant.  Those IRS employees should spend more time doing the government's work and less time protecting their jobs."

WASHINGTON - Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - Sen. Chuck Grassley is expressing concern over whether the National Cancer Institute unfairly disciplined its ethics director for trying to make sure agency travel complies with federal law and procedures, including those set by the institute's parent agency, the National Institutes of Health.  The travel at issue is sponsored by non-government sources, such as corporations and other private entities.

"Some government agencies have more travel than others.  They should be used to transparency and scrutiny to make sure they follow the rules," Grassley said.  "National Cancer Institute executives appear to have taken issue with the scrutiny to sponsored travel given by their then-chief ethics officer.  It's important to get to the bottom of whether the ethics officer was retaliated against just for doing her job."

 Grassley wrote to the director of the National Institutes of Health and the director of the National Cancer Institute, seeking details of National Cancer Institute employees' sponsored travel.  He asked the National Cancer Institute to conduct an internal review of whether it has furnished all required information to the Office of Government Ethics and copied the Office of Government Ethics.  Grassley also reminded the National Cancer Institute that interfering with federal employees' rights to furnish information to Congress is a violation of federal law.

 Grassley's letter is available here.

WASHINGTON - Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - Senator Chuck Grassley today said that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $1,143,168 to the Iowa Department of Public Health. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Iowa Department of Public Health will use the money to fund maternal and child health services.

Each year, thousands of local Iowa organizations, colleges and universities, individuals and state agencies apply for competitive grants from the federal government.  The funding is then awarded based on each local organization or individual's ability to meet criteria set by the federal entity administering the funds.


WASHINGTON - Monday, October 25, 2010 - On Friday, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa asked the Food and Drug Administration how the agency handles reports of medical device companies' payments to doctors who are participating in clinical studies of the companies' products.

Grassley wrote to the FDA commissioner, citing information that doctors participating in clinical trials sponsored by a particular medical device maker also received significant payments from that device maker.

"The FDA should be transparent and describe what it does with information about potential conflicts of interest, including any steps it takes to protect the integrity and reliability of clinical research," Grassley said.

The text of Grassley's letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is available here.

WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Grassley said the latest report describing private club dues and meals and a leased vehicle for personal use at a legal aid group in Baton Rouge, La., shows the Legal Services Corporation needs to conduct much better oversight of its funding recipients.

"Even as the parent organization says it's improving oversight, we get yet another report of taxpayer spending abuses," Grassley said. "These are dollars that are supposed to help poor people with their legal expenses, not pay for private club memberships or leased cars, used for both business and personal use.  The latest report is more evidence that the Legal Services Corporation needs to overhaul its oversight of legal aid programs."

The new report from the Legal Services Corporation inspector general documents spending abuses by the Capital Area Legal Services Corp. in Baton Rouge, La.  Several legal aid groups around the country have been targeted for diverting tax dollars meant for legal aid to executives' personal spending.  In September, the former finance director of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau pleaded guilty to stealing more than $1 million from the group.

Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa have ongoing oversight of the Legal Services Corporation's efforts to improve grantee oversight.  The Legal Services Corporation is the government's main program to help low-income people with civil legal matters.

The audit report on the Capital Area Legal Services Corp. in Baton Rouge, La., is available here.

A news story on the Baton Rouge case from the non-profit Center for Public Integrity is available here.

The latest Grassley-Issa letter to the Legal Services Corporation on oversight improvement is available here.

The Legal Services Corporation's response is available here

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley has sent a letter to Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu regarding a new audit report from the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General (OIG).  The report indicates that taxpayer dollars are being spent on shoddy work under the stimulus-funded Weatherization Assistance Program in Illinois, and that the work may not only be a fiscal threat to the American taxpayer, but also a serious physical threat to residents of weatherized homes through gas leaks and fire hazards.

"The amount of taxpayer dollars being wasted and the apparent lack of prevention of fraud, waste and abuse in these weatherization projects by the Department of Energy and states are very concerning," Grassley said.  "This isn't the first time the Department has fallen asleep at the wheel while overseeing stimulus spending and it's critical to the American taxpayer that the Department take immediate steps to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Click here to view Grassley's letter to Secretary Chu.

Click here to view the OIG's report which details the significant substandard performance in areas of workmanship, initial home assessments, and contractor billing for labor costs not incurred and materials that had not been installed.

Click here to view Grassley's July 23rd press release detailing other problems that the Department of Energy has encountered in utilizing the stimulus dollars for weatherization projects.


Monday, October 18, 2010

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley is continuing his effort to protect Medicare and Medicaid dollars, this time by demanding greater transparency from program officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), regarding possible waste, fraud and abuse of program resources by outside contractors.

In a follow up inquiry to CMS Administrator Donald Berwick, Grassley said the agency should release data about how much the agency is paying contractors to identify and investigate potential fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and stop working to find excuses why the information about how public dollars are used should be kept secret.

"Government officials are stewards of tax dollars and they have a responsibility to be transparent and forthright about decisions and actions involving public money," Grassley said.  "That stewardship includes holding contractors accountable if they fail to deliver.  And, in this case like most others, transparency can help establish accountability."

Click here to read Grassley's letter October 15 letter to CMS Administrator Donald Berwick.

Click here to read Grassley's October 6 press release regarding the initial letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and CMS Administrator Donald Berwick seeking accountability.



WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley, along with Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, has sent a letter to defense Secretary  Robert Gates questioning whether a new loophole has been created in the administrative discharge system which results in erroneous discharges of members of the Armed Forces who are experiencing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), instead of making sure they receive medical care worthy of their service and sacrifice.

"The men and women in America's armed services put their lives on the line day in and day out for our freedom," Grassley said.  "We worked to close a loophole where many of these honorable service members were being discharged without medical and disability benefits for supposedly pre-existing personality disorders that may in fact have been undiagnosed PTSD or TBI due to service in combat. Now it appears that a new loophole may have taken its place and we need to get to the bottom of this situation so our service members are treated fairly."

Click here to view Grassley's letter to Secretary Gates.

Click here to read the October 20th, 2009 press release regarding a letter Grassley, along with Senators Kit Bond, Blanche Lincoln and Sam Brownback, sent to President Barack Obama to renew his commitment to ensure that returning service members are provided medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs for what may have previously been diagnosed as a pre-existing personality disorder instead of combat-related post traumatic stress disorder.

Click here to read the August 5th, 2009 press release regarding Grassley's letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee advocating for legislation that guarantees that PTSD and TBI are diagnosed and those diagnoses are considered in any future discharge proceeding.

Click here to read the June 22nd, 2007 press release regarding a letter to Secretary Gates sent by Grassley and a group of bipartisan senators, including Senator Obama, calling for an independent review of the personality disorder discharge process in the Armed Forces.