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Lawmakers Chastise Health Secretary About Memo to Agency Workers

  • VOA News

FILE - U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price speaks to reporters in Washington, March 13, 2017.

Two U.S. lawmakers have reprimanded one of President Donald Trump's Cabinet members, Heath and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, for an HHS memo that appeared to restrict department employees from communicating directly with Congress.

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, both Republicans, said in a letter to Price that the directive to his department's employees was "potentially illegal and unconstitutional."

FILE - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Ia., April 11, 2016.
FILE - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Ia., April 11, 2016.

The two committee chairmen noted that U.S. law guarantees government workers the right to contact Congress, and they said the memo issued by one of Price's aides this month "will likely chill protected disclosures of waste, fraud and abuse."

Although the memo does not explicitly forbid HHS workers from making contact with members of Congress, Grassley and Chaffetz wrote that "federal employees will most certainly read this instruction as a prohibition."

FILE - House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, June 16, 2015.
FILE - House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, June 16, 2015.

"Protecting whistle-blowers who courageously speak out is not a partisan issue," the two lawmakers said in a letter to Price, which they sent to Price on May 4 and made public Tuesday. "It is critical to the functioning of our government."

A law in effect since 1912 gives federal employees the right to contact Congress directly on matters concerning their jobs. Additional action by Congress in the 1980s and '90s strengthened protections for government workers who act as whistle-blowers.

Grassley and Chaffetz asked Price to reissue his memo to clarify HHS employees' rights in such matters. A spokeswoman for the agency told The Washington Post a response was being prepared.

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