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Transparency Works

July 22, 2018
By U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley - R-Iowa , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Q: How does transparency hold government accountable?

A: Sometimes I wonder if people get tired of this Iowa senator talking about transparency and accountability. Let me assure skeptics that these two principles of good government aren't trite buzz words or talking points I use in floor speeches.

Ask anyone who has locked horns with me and my oversight work over the years. I'm not going to buzz off just because the bureaucracy stonewalls. Just consider the $56 billion and counting - the Grassley whistleblower amendments have recovered to the U.S. Treasury. I can't imagine taxpayers want me to put the brakes on whistleblower advocacy and congressional oversight.

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U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

On the other hand, well-connected insiders and decision-makers in the bureaucratic establishment aren't so fond of the tight leash I keep as a watchdog for good government. Indeed, the insiders "inside the beltway" consider my tireless pursuit for accountability a thorn in the side of the administrative state.

During the Senate confirmation process for presidential appointments to the executive branch, I remind nominees that in our capacity as public servants, we are stewards of self-government entrusted to carry out the people's business. Time and again, I receive assurances that agency officials will provide timely responses to my oversight requests for information.

And yet, no matter which administration holds office, wrongdoers do whatever it takes to dodge, deny and delay to keep monkey business from seeing the light of day.

As a fiscal conservative, I work to cut bureaucratic bloat and make sure tax dollars get the most bang for the buck. That's why I fixed flawed processes at the USDA that sent payments to deceased farmers, for example. And it's why I keep my thumb on the Pentagon to produce a clean audit.

Despite decades of extensions granted by Congress, it's the only federal agency that has failed to comply with fundamental accounting tools required by federal law to effectively track hundreds of billions of dollars that flow through the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon has its first full audit underway, but the prospects for achieving full compliance is slim to none. Every defense dollar lost to waste weakens U.S. military readiness and rips off the taxpaying public.

As a steward of the public purse, I keep my oversight lens focused on federal ledgers to track tax dollars so they aren't squandered, swindled or stolen by unscrupulous government contractors in cahoots with bad actors or incompetence within the bureaucracy.

Transparency provides a two-for-one solution to good government. It roots out waste, fraud and abuse and restores public trust in government.

Q: What recent examples of your oversight work reflect how transparency improves public services and strengthens the public trust?

A: Through my key committee assignments and chairmanships in the U.S. Senate, I have championed transparency measures to improve public services and government accountability.

Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released its fourth annual report required by sunshine laws I wrote to strengthen public confidence in our health care delivery system.

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to maintain a reporting system of financial transactions between drug companies and medical device manufacturers and physicians and teaching hospitals.

The database is not an indictment of wrongdoing; indeed, many payments reflect legitimate research and patient care. Rather, it is a transparency tool for the benefit of patients and consumer advocates.

The Open Payments system simply discloses the financial relationships between prescribing physicians and pharmaceutical companies, for example. Information that can withstand public scrutiny and the broad light of day has the added benefit to help deter wrongdoing and improve accountability.

Just consider transparency helped expose the flawed reimbursement scheme for the anti-allergy and asthma drug EpiPen. When Iowans contacted me about a flagrant 600 percent increase for this life-saving medicine, I started digging for an explanation. A federal audit by the Inspector General at HHS estimated taxpayer-financed Medicaid overpaid $1.3 billion for this drug from 2006 to 2016.

Although the company agreed to a $465 million payment to settle misclassification claims with the Department of Justice, I'm not wholly satisfied we've gotten the whole story. Congress and the taxpaying public have a right to know the arrangements and approval process between CMS and the drug maker that allowed the company to overcharge Medicaid by more than a $1 billion dollars.

Through the years, I've learned that efforts to undermine my oversight work and thwart transparency are typically hiding something. And that's bad news for good government.

Transparency for veterans also got a shot in the arm this summer when the Senate passed a bipartisan amendment I cosponsored that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to release detailed information about the quality of its 133 nursing homes located across the United States. Although the VA took an important step by releasing the star ratings of its nursing homes, the underlying data is still not available to the public.

This amendment would require the VA to publicly release detailed information about each nursing home, including the metrics and criteria used to make the rating determination.

Our nation's veterans deserve high-quality care. They and their loved ones also deserve access to meaningful information regarding the quality of care being delivered at our VA nursing homes.

From defense dollars to farm programs, veterans' health care and prescription drug prices, transparency is a vital tool to protect tax dollars and restore public trust in government.



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