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House Dems Request IG Investigation Into Medicare VNRs

March 16, 2004
Press Release

March 16, 2004

Dara Corrigan

Acting Principal Deputy Inspector General

Department of Health and Human Services

Office of the Inspector General
330 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Ms. Corrigan:

We are writing to follow up on our letter of February 5th to request that you include in your investigation of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) involvement in a taxpayer-funded advertising campaign to promote the Administrations Medicare bill, a careful examination of the Administrations use of video news releases.

Last week, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that, while not technically violating laws, the Administrations ad campaign promoting its Medicare bill had "notable weaknesses and other omissions," and, "this is not to say that the content is totally free of political tone." Coming on the heels of this report, these news releases raise serious new questions about the Administrations straightforwardness in promoting its Medicare bill. The purpose of public education campaigns should be to inform and educate, not to manipulate. In our view, these video news releases are clearly intended to manipulate.

As the New York Times reported on March 15th, these segments are intended to be used by local television news programs in an effort to continue to prop up the recently enacted Medicare law. We are even more concerned because the news report states that the Bush administration paid actors to pose as journalists and pharmacists in the video news releases, where they praise and promote the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act of 2003. In addition, the video news releases show President Bush receiving a standing ovation as he signed the Medicare law on December 8th and fail to identify HHS as their source. In previous investigations, GAO has found editorials and newspaper articles written by government officials or government contractors that do not identify their source to be in violation of the restriction on using federal funds for political propaganda.

Further, in Mondays New York Times, Gary L. Kepplinter, the GAO deputy counsel, is quoted as saying, "We are actively considering some follow-up work related to the materials we received from the Department of Health and Human Services." In light of this remark, we respectively request that you also pursue this "follow-up" work, and consider whether these video segments are sufficiently non-partisan and unbiased, and whether they represent an appropriate use of taxpayers money.

Sincerely,

Rosa L. DeLauro                                                                              Frank Pallone

Sherrod Brown                                                                                 Bernie Sanders

Tom Allen                                                                                         Marion Berry

Jan Schakowsky                                                                               Rahm Emanuel

Jim Davis