CMS chief Seema Verma spent millions in taxpayer funds to promote ‘personal brand’

Congress Democrats are accusing a top health official in President Donald Trump’s administration of “widespread misuse” of millions of taxpayer dollars, including the raids of Republican-bound media advisors in an effort to promote her personal brand .

The leaders of the four congressional committees, who on Thursday revealed the results of a 17-month investigation by Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma for the use of public funds, now asked them to “personally reimburse taxpayers for these unfair expenses”. Are calling for.

Democrats say they received thousands of documents showing dozens of suspicious billing statements – including a consultant, Pam Stevens, billed nearly $ 3,000 for work related to setting up “Girl’s Night to Honor Administrator”.

The investigation was conducted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the House Oversight and Reform Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Democrats of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.

Democratic committee leaders said in a joint statement, “Our investigation found that Administrator Verma misused the funds appropriated by Congress and intended taxpayer dollars to support important federal health care programs.”

“Congress did not intend to spend taxpayer dollars on Administrator Verma’s public profile and communications advisors used to promote a personal brand. Administrator Verma has negligently disregarded the public’s trust,” he said .

Democrats accused Verma of “building shadow operations, which bypassed CMS’s communications office.” According to a 56% Page report, its cadre charged CMS $ 6 million in less than two years.

The investigation suggests that VMS’s spending on private advisors may have violated CMS’s “applicable law of governance for the use of appropriated funds.” The report states that CMS incurs unlawful spending in violation of these conditions.

Advisers for Verma also failed to follow standard federal spending protocols, the report says, from providing vague details on invoices and not providing dates for work.

The report alleged that Verma’s “external reliance” on consultants fueled redundancy in staffing, particularly on office visits, which created “a significant cost to taxpayers”.

CMS did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the investigation. The White House did not immediately comment.

The Democrats’ findings came two months after the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services accused Verma of misusing more than $ 5 million in taxpayer money to pay politically connected contractors and subcontractors. Gone.

CMS, one of the largest agencies in the federal government, oversees large-scale public health care programs Medicare and Medicaid, which provide significant coverage and services to primarily older and poorer Americans, respectively. The agency also manages the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Obamacare Private Health Insurance Exchange and the Obamacare Program.

Verma was confirmed by the Senate in 2017.

As part of the investigation, Democrats obtained thousands of pages of documents from HHS and other parties, interviewed colleagues of two consulting firms used by CMS, and “databases, court records, and press reports from others.” Collected additional information. ” Sources ”

The report says Verma relied most on advisor Marcus Barlow, who was reportedly barred from becoming the official CMS communications director by the White House due to earlier criticisms of Trump. Barlow, formerly a spokesperson for Verma’s former consulting firm, SVC Inc., billed CMS for the hours it took to charge a rate for a full-time employee, resulting in CMS’s top salary doubling of $ 179,700. Will be. Communications officer, “the report says.

Democrats allege that some of the work detailed in the documents obtained may be illegal forms of “self-aggression”. Such work, the report says, includes cases that personally benefit Verma and not the agency he leads.

The report on Stevens’ two-page “Executive Visibility Proposal” zeroed in on Verma’s image for possible profile pieces and placements on the list to give him a powerful and influential Will portray as a person.

Those media targets include “Badass Women of DC”, Glamor’s “Woman of the Year Awards” and Washington’s “Most Powerful Woman in Washington” list.

Reportedly Stevens billed Verma for at least $ 13,000 “pitch” to consider the award, panel and other events.

– CNBC’s Dan Mangan contributed to this report.