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"Most Transparent Ever"? Administration Continues to Ignore Congressional Oversight

Late last week, the Obama administration’s Department on Health and Human Services (HHS) quietly informed a Wisconsin newspaper that it would not announce the results of the Head Start re-competition process this year.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Grants were expected to be awarded in November or December, but Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families in Washington, D.C., said in an email to the Journal Sentinel this week that "spring is the new timetable."

In an effort to protect taxpayers and improve the quality and accountability of the Head Start program, the bipartisan Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 required the lowest performing Head Start programs to compete for continued future federal funds. The Obama administration delayed the start of the re-competition process for nearly three years.

Mr. Wolfe’s admission to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel came as a surprise to Republican leaders. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have tried for months to learn the status of the Head Start re-competition process - yet the administration chose to share more information with a reporter than members of Congress.

Remarkably, this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has chosen to undermine congressional oversight. In fact, delay and obstruction have become the administration’s preferred answers to important questions affecting needy families and low-income children. For example:

  • In 1998, Congress mandated HHS to conduct a national evaluation of Head Start. The first Head Start Impact Study, released in 2010, examined the academic and developmental outcomes of a group of Head Start participants from preschool through the first grade. In 2006, HHS initiated a follow up to the Head Start Impact Study, tracking outcomes of the same group of children through the end of third grade. HHS has repeatedly delayed release of this study, and continues to ignore congressional efforts to obtain an explanation.

  • HHS released a “bulletin” in 2011 outlining the “essential health benefits” that must be included in every new plan sold to individuals and small businesses. The bulletin sidestepped the administration’s obligation to publish a cost benefit analysis and allow for public comment. Committee leaders in the House and Senate requested documents and communications related to the bulletin, yet the department has refused to provide a substantive response.

  • Following a May 2012 hearing, members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce submitted a number of questions to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The questions covered a broad range of important issues, including the health care law, early childhood education, and child abuse prevention initiatives. More than six months later, the committee is still awaiting the secretary’s response.

Actions speak louder than words, and this pattern of delay and obstruction is hardly the hallmark of an administration that calls itself “the most transparent ever.

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