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Inspector General: Medicare chief has broken rules on her publicity contracts

Still, the episode fit in with a pattern from Verma tasking contractors with leading tasks ranging from high-profile to mundane, from writing big speeches and organizing events to managing media requests and approving tweets.

For example, Verma recommended that contractors hire Pam Stevens, a well-known communications expert in Washington, to set up her media appearances, the Inspector General’s report said. Stevens would then draw up a publicity plan for Verma that featured profiles in magazines like Glamor, invitations to prestigious events like the Kennedy Center Honors, and recognition on “Power Women” lists. CMS watered down the plan, saying many of Stevens’ proposals have not been fulfilled.

In addition, CMS paid these contractors at rates much higher than those of senior government officials to perform tasks that the Inspector General said were to be performed by the service’s more than 200 internal communications officers.

“Improper management and management of contracts may put the government at increased risk of wastage and abuse,” said Tesia Williams, a spokesman for the Inspector General.

In a letter signed by Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, HHS agreed to the Inspector General’s recommendations and committed to reviewing his contracts.

But Verma contested the findings in a comprehensive response to the Inspector General accompanying the report, calling them “unfair” and arguing that auditors chose their findings.

“Making these conclusions is only possible with the help of an incomplete record of evidence and a misunderstanding of federal contract requirements,” Verma wrote. “I completely disagree that the management and execution of the contracts have ever caused serious concern.”

Verma also punished the Inspector General for the timing of her report.

“CMS should focus solely on responding to an unprecedented global pandemic, but instead should spend precious time responding to the numerous incorrect features and technical inaccuracies,” Verma wrote.

The chief health department spokesperson defended Verma and repeated her criticism of the timing of the report.

“Ultimately, CMS should have focused solely on responding to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic rather than focusing on alleged minor and technical violations that have been the subject of protracted discussions and confusion,” said HHS spokesman Michael Caputo . in a statement.