- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The former Medicare administrator should repay his government salary because of his efforts to keep higher estimates of the cost of a prescription-drug plan from Congress last year, congressional investigators said yesterday.

The recommendation from the Government Accountability Office reignited the controversy over the passage of the Medicare overhaul and questions about whether the Bush administration intentionally concealed its own estimates of the cost — $100 billion more than the $400 billion it acknowledged — to win support of conservative Republicans.

The Associated Press reported last year that Thomas Scully, the Medicare chief until December, threatened to fire chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster to prevent him from giving the information to lawmakers.

Federal law prohibits a federal agency from paying the salary of an official who prevents another federal employee from communicating with Congress, the GAO said.

Because the Department of Health and Human Services “was prohibited from paying Mr. Scully’s salary after he barred Mr. Foster from communicating with Congress, HHS should consider such payments improper,” GAO general counsel Anthony Gamboa wrote in a report to Democratic senators who requested it. “Therefore, we recommend that HHS seek to recover these payments.”

An earlier report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service also concluded that the administration was wrong to keep the information from Congress.

HHS officials and Mr. Scully, who now works for a law firm and investment bank, did not comment yesterday.

But the administration argued in a July report that no laws were broken. Mr. Scully “has the final authority to determine the flow of information to Congress,” the HHS inspector general’s office said.

The administration has adamantly refused to release Mr. Foster’s estimates, even since the law’s enactment in December. House Democrats have sued for the documents in federal court. The Associated Press, which sought the same materials under the Freedom of Information Act, received 13 pages that had previously been made public.

The administration withheld an additional 150 pages that HHS acknowledged are responsive to the AP’s request.

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