Senator Hassan Presses Top Budget Official Nominee to Justify Proposing Massive Budget Cuts to Critical Public Health Agencies Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, ranking member of the subcommittee tasked with overseeing federal spending, pressed Russell Vought, nominee to be Director for the Office of Management and Budget, to justify the administration proposing a budget for the next fiscal year that includes severe cuts to public health spending amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
To watch the Senator’s questioning, click here.
The Trump Administration’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021 requested billions of dollars in cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and initially included massive cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even as the COVID-19 virus was spreading across the country. The administration later backtracked and put forward a new budget proposal that included additional funding for the CDC, but left the other budget cuts to HHS and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – that Dr. Anthony Fauci leads – in place.
“In the middle of this pandemic, how can you possibly justify cutting spending from Dr. Fauci’s agency and cutting billions of dollars in federal health spending in the next fiscal year – which starts just four months from now,” asked Senator Hassan.
Vought defended the cuts, stating, “In terms of overall from HHS’s perspective, they’re about a hundred billion dollar agency – and we believe…it’s important for all agencies to be able to look and find out where they can make and do things more efficiently, and we have found even at CDC there are things on the occupational health side, various studies that have been done, that we don’t think are as much of a priority given their important work to fight infectious disease.”
In response, Senator Hassan said, “The thought of underfunding the agency at this critical time, instead of looking at what the needs are to meet this moment, is inappropriate and reflects poor judgement.”
Senator Hassan also raised the importance of modernizing the government’s IT infrastructure, stating, “Recently, we’ve seen how the federal response to COVID-19 was hampered by aging IT systems across the government – whether it was the IRS struggling to disburse millions of economic relief payments or [the Small Business Administration’s] E-Tran website crashing as it tried to roll out the payroll protection program. Do you agree that the federal government’s aging technology slowed its response to COVID-19 and delayed critical aid and services from getting to the American people?”
“I agree that the aging of information technology is a problem for all of government, it had its implication in regards to this response and recovery,” Vaught continued, “We want to make sure we work together to make sure that when we spend 80, 90 billion dollars per year for IT maintenance and improvement that when we’re in the midst of a crisis – and when we’re in a steady state – that we have every opportunity to have the American people get the service that they deserve.”
Senator Hassan also questioned the nominee for the Inspector General for the Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for managing the federal government’s workforce, on the importance of keeping Inspectors Generals independent from political pressures. The Senator’s questioning follows up on actions taken by President Trump to remove several Inspectors General and Acting Inspectors General for doing the jobs that they were assigned under federal law.
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