Lawmakers warn that HHS restricting their communications with Congress could hamper fraud, abuse investigations

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Republican lawmakers are expressing concerns that a recent memo issued to Department of Health and Human Services employees may hinder communication between HHS staffers and Congress.

The memo, distributed May 3, informs HHS employees that “any communications with Members of Congress and staff should not occur without prior consultation with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation.” Those communications include requests for meetings, briefings, calls, policy development and oversight, the memo reads.

In a letter sent to HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D. last week, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) condemned the memo as “potentially illegal and unconstitutional,” since employees may interpret it as prohibiting communications with Congress.

Chaffetz and Grassley also stated that the memo could “chill protected disclosures of waste, fraud and abuse.” They called on HHS to issue new guidance to staffers informing them of their rights to communicate freely with Congress.

“Absent such a clear communication from you, agency management may seek to intimidate whistleblowers from providing information to Congress,” the letter reads. “Protecting whistleblowers is crucial to effective government and the oversight process.”

Previous presidential administrations have sent similar memos to employees, a spokeswoman told The Washington Post, since “transitions between administrations can mean significant staff turnover, which often leads to confusion and a breakdown of communications.”