Turning Gruber’s Disclosure Failure Into A Future Disclosure Policy

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Sen. Charles Grassley is diving into the Jonathan Gruber scandal by asking the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to “disclose federal contracts of individuals invited to testify before Congress on healthcare reform.” I understand the political motivation behind this, but we could actually take this issue seriously. This proposal could, and should, go much further. So here’s a thought experiment and a proposal:

With some serious caveats, all witnesses before congressional committees should be required to disclose contracts, grants and subsidies, both federal and state, that they or their business receive along with any connection, through business or finance, that they have with any sitting member of the committee. Witnesses should also have to disclose whether they are a registered lobbyist and what contributions they have made to committee members. These disclosures should be made in a simple form and then disclosed on the overseeing committee’s Web site prior to the committee hearing.

Grassley’s concern comes from the case of Jonathan Gruber, a well-respected MIT professor and voice on health care reform, who was revealed to have been given a nearly $400,000 from HHS to consult on the President’s health care proposal. This, all the while, acting as a source to many journalists, appearing on television, writing in newspapers and having his research heavily cited in support of the Senate/White House health care bill. Gruber also appeared before the Senate Finance Committee on May 12, 2009 as a witness.

Gruber obviously isn’t the only one who is guilty of this kind of non-disclosure. There are likely numerous cases of executives, employees, lobbyists and experts paraded before congressional committees with some kind of undisclosed conflict of interest or connection.

In one case that went before the Ethics Committee, only to be rejected, Rep. Sam Graves invited his wife’s business associate to testify before a congressional hearing. While Graves ran this invitation by the Ethics Committee beforehand and the Ethics Committee dismissed the charges, this association and potential conflict of interest was not disclosed to the public.

It is likely that some committees already require witnesses to fill out similar forms to the ones I am proposing. These are, however, not made available to the public. Sunlight supports the online posting of all documents submitted to committees as they relate to hearings.

Now, as to the caveats for any policy resembling the one I just described. First, there would obviously be certain whistleblower protections. Second, if a conflict undermined national security, in nearly all cases, this could remain undisclosed. Third, all personal identify information — address, etc… — would not be made publicly available.

Please tell me in the comments how this could be better or rip me apart for proposing this policy.

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  • We could debate that whether Yea or No. That funds of the Congressional Studies are being used correctly or not. But you can bet that Jonathan Gruber is not the only {sub offical that is turning up the whole presidential studie.} We can say it is easy to violate House of Representative Rules. But what we are really dealing with is a horse with a new name for government. Health Care is new for the Government to deal with. We can only hope the money’s are used tothe best of there ability. And senators such as Sen.Charles Grassley have been commissioned to call out this investigation. So let the house rule prevail.

  • Interesting. Thanks Jim.

  • House rules require witnesses in the House to disclose government grants and contracts. I don’t see any sign that Gruber testified in the House.

    Rule XI(2)(g)(4) Each committee shall, to the greatest extent practicable, require witnesses who appear before it to submit in advance written statements of proposed testimony and to limit their initial presentations to the committee to brief summaries thereof. In the case of a witness appearing in a nongovernmental capacity, a written statement of proposed testimony shall include a curriculum vitae and a disclosure of the amount and source (by agency and program) of each Federal grant (or subgrant thereof) or contract (or subcontract thereof) received during the current fiscal year or either of the two previous fiscal years by the witness or by an entity represented by the witness.

    http://clerk.house.gov/legislative/rules111/111th.pdf

  • Daniel Schuman

    Until there is a rules change, Members of Congress, who routinely ask witnesses questions in writing, could send each witness a list of questions that must be submitted along with the witness’ written statement.

  • Agree with John on all points.

  • …the hardest approach to creating such a requirement would be the statutory one, requiring Congress to pass a bill.

    Again, it seems Congressional procedures are the best place for such a requirement, since the executive is already required to disclose these contracts through USASpending.gov. (or at least some information about them, since the actual contracts aren’t disclosed)

  • My reaction — it strikes me that the burden of crafting this requirement for disclosure should be on Congress itself.

    The House or Senate rules could be amended to require committees to create specific disclosure forms and requirements for all witnesses. If amending chamber rules is too challenging, then committees can more easily adopt rules to this effect. (some committees’ rules, I believe, already have similar requirements and forms, though they’re less effective since they aren’t public, as far as I know.)

    Barring that step, Members of Congress are, of course, free to go to committee hearings and ask questions of witnesses, which, of course, could include “are you being paid to be here” or “has the government paid you for your opinion on this topic in the past” etc.