David Blumenthal, head of HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, said two federally chartered health IT advisory committees that report to him will hold their work-group meetings in public. Blumenthal announced the policy shift on his blog, Health IT Buzz, Dec. 23.
Over the past month, an ONC advisory and a White House technology advisory group have held all or part of several work-group meetings on privacy and security behind closed doors.
An ONC advisory panel known as the HIT Policy Committee was created pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which stipulated that it and a sister committee, the HIT Standards Committee, which also reports to Blumenthal, must operate under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, or FACA. FACA requires that, in general, committees operating under its rules must hold their meetings in public, absent specified exceptions.
Subcommittees and work groups of FACA committees also should abide by the FACA open-meetings rules, according to new guidelines being promulgated by the Obama administration, an official in charge of providing federal agencies training and guidance on FACA said.
Neither Blumenthal nor his office offered an explanation or legal justification for holding several previous work-group meetings behind closed doors. In his blog post, Blumenthal revealed there are 10 work groups up and running.
Blumenthal wrote, “The FACA rules allow workgroup meetings to be closed to the public and the findings from these workgroups are always reported in the full committees, but we want to do more to bring you into the conversation. Beginning January 1, we'll implement a new policy that will open up workgroup meetings to the public unless a closed meeting is clearly in the public interest. The decision to close a meeting will be done on a case by case basis at the written request of the workgroup chair(s) reflecting a majority vote by the membership to hold a closed hearing and a justification to do so.
“Our goal is to make every meeting open, but if a meeting is closed, we'll report the findings from the meeting on our website and any findings from the meeting will also be reported to the full committee—where anyone can listen to and comment on what the workgroup has to say.”