WASHINGTON — President Trump is replacing the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) several weeks after she issued a report critical of the administration’s efforts in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a little-noticed announcement Friday evening, Trump nominated Jason Weida, an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston, for the post. The nomination must be approved by the Senate.
Weida, who had previously worked on healthcare litigation in private practice and also clerked for a federal appeals court judge, would replace Christi Grimm, who became inspector general in January. Grimm came to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in 1999 and worked under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Trump’s action is widely thought to come in response to a report published by Grimm’s office on April 6, which included interviews with 323 hospital administrators, and found that hospitals continued to wrestle with shortages of supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE), and that some of the supplies hospitals received from state and federal stockpiles were of insufficient quantity and quality.
At a White House press briefing, Trump was asked by a reporter about the report, specifically about the administrators complaining about shortages of tests and testing supplies. “It’s wrong,” he said. “Did I hear the word ‘inspector general?’ It’s wrong. All I can tell you is this … We’ve done more testing and had more results than any country anywhere in the world. We’re doing an incredible job. Give me the name of the inspector general. Could politics be entered into that?”
Another reporter then followed up with Grimm’s name, and Trump asked when she was appointed. Told that he had appointed her to the job this past January, he said, “We are doing an incredible job on testing … there’s nobody close. And other nations have admitted this.” As for the testing issue and the report, “we’re going to take a look at it,” he said.
In addition to issuing the report on the hospital issues, OIG also announced in April several new investigations of HHS’s response to the pandemic:
The last has been a particular sore point for the administration: the CDC was roundly criticized over its handling of the test kits, which initially contained a contaminated component — one that the agency eventually decided was unnecessary. After about a month, the agency decided the component was unnecessary and the kits could be used without it. Meanwhile, testing lagged while university and other labs struggled to get permission to conduct testing with their own reagents.
“We plan to review the controls that HHS has in place to produce and distribute the COVID-19 test kits and whether CDC has designed and implemented controls to mitigate any potential risks,” the OIG said in announcing the audit. “The objective of our audit will be to review CDC’s process of producing and distributing the COVID-19 test kits.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said in a press release that the inspector general’s investigation into the test kit’s problems was initiated in response to a request from her office.
Murray expressed her unhappiness about Grimm being replaced. “After attacking her on Twitter, the President is now moving to replace the respected independent government watchdog leading investigations into why we were so unprepared and slow to respond to this virus, which has left families nationwide mourning tens of thousands of lives and struggling to make rent or put food on the table,” Murray said Saturday in a statement.
“We all know the president hasn’t told people the truth about this virus or his administration’s response, and late last night [Friday], he moved to silence an independent government official who did,” she continued. “The president cannot be above oversight, no matter how he denies, attacks, and fights against it. His nominee must not get through the Senate without ironclad commitments to continue, without any political interference, the investigations that are currently underway. Anyone who demands less will be complicit in the president’s clear pattern of retaliation against those who tell the truth.”
Trump’s firing of the inspector general came on the same day Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration barred Anthony Fauci, MD, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, from testifying at a Democratic-controlled House Appropriations subcommittee hearing next week on the U.S. response to the pandemic.
“While the Trump administration continues its whole-of-government response to Covid-19, including safely opening up America again and expediting vaccine development, it is counter-productive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at congressional hearings,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. The White House is, however, allowing Fauci to testify at a Republican-controlled HELP committee hearing on the topic in 2 weeks, according to ABC News.
Last Updated May 04, 2020