In a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Reps. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), question the ethics waiver Thompson approved last spring allowing CMS Administrator Thomas Scully to pursue employment while negotiating the Medicare reform bill.
Granted May 12, the document waives provisions under Section 208(b)(1), Title 18 of the United States Code that prohibit federal executive branch employees from participating in matters in which the employee has a financial interest.
"We recently received a copy of the waiver granted to Mr. Scully and are absolutely shocked that it could pass muster," the letter says. "At best, this waiver is unseemly. At worst, it may well have lead (sic) to enactment into law of provisions to benefit particular special interests rather than the public good."
Stark is the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, and Schakowsky is the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. A copy of the letter and of the HHS waiver is available on Stark's Web site.
Scully last week announced his resignation, effective Dec. 15, and confirmed that he has discussed employment possibilities with at least five private firms. In a conference call with reporters, Scully said he is not worried about the appearance of impropriety.
"I know that I'm as straight as they come," Scully says. "I've been a model citizen and followed the rules by the book. I'm happy to have somebody look into this for the rest of their lives."
Stark and Schakowsky contend that for seven months, members of Congress who counted on Scully for information did not know he was actively looking for employment with firms "that have significant interests in the issues at stake." They say the waiver gave Scully "free rein" to negotiate with firms directly impacted by his decisions as CMS administrator.
"The very reason that laws exist to prevent financial conflicts of interest are because they are vitally necessary to protect the integrity of government work," the letter continues. "It is not intended that high-ranking government officials be actively trolling for work in the very industry they are being entrusted to regulate and oversee on behalf of the public."
Stark and Schakowsky urge HHS not to grant similar waivers and request information about any other such waivers provided to officials currently employed by the department.