WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has confirmed a federal watchdog assailed by former President Donald Trump to the top job battling fraud, waste and abuse at the $1.6 trillion Department of Health and Human Services, which has a portfolio that spans health, social services and even the care of migrant children.
No Republicans objected to confirming Christi A. Grimm, a longtime civil servant, to be HHS inspector general. Her division includes some 1,600 auditors, law enforcement agents, and management experts, and is known for its annual health care fraud takedowns. The voice vote came Thursday evening.
Only two years ago, Trump lashed out at Grimm from the White House briefing room after her office released a survey that highlighted the struggles of hospitals in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the well-documented shortage of tests at the time. “It is wrong,” Trump said nonetheless.
The report was a fact-based product by federal auditors, but Trump insinuated it was politically motivated. The former president had a rocky relationship with inspectors general throughout the government and Grimm at that time was the de facto head of the HHS office, which was lacking a Senate-confirmed leader. She started her government career in 1999, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations.
“So, give me the name of the inspector general?” Trump asked a reporter at the briefing.
When told that Grimm had served in the Obama administration, Trump responded: “Thank you for telling me that … there’s a typical fake news deal.”
Though inspectors general are presidential appointees, they can serve extended terms under presidents of both parties. They are expected to be nonpartisan independent investigators, shedding light on deficiencies in their agencies.
Trump moved to replace Grimm, but his candidate did not advance in the Senate. Meanwhile, Grimm hunkered down and continued running the inspector general’s office.
Last summer, President Joe Biden nominated Grimm to be inspector general. At her confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Grimm, who is 46, described herself as a “career public servant who rose through the ranks.”
She added a full-throated endorsement of the mission that inspectors general carry out.
“They root out fraud, waste, and abuse and help make programs more efficient and effective. It is critical to have inspectors general who understand the value of objective and independent oversight,” she said. “A strong inspector general makes a stronger department and a stronger, more trusted federal government.”
The HHS inspector general’s office specializes in health care fraud, which long ago replaced defense contract fraud as the main attraction for criminals seeking to siphon away taxpayer dollars.
During the Trump administration, the office also produced unflinching reports on the consequences of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico. One such report documented that children who were separated from their families tended to suffer more emotional trauma than migrant children who remained with their parents.
In the Obama administration, the HHS inspector general dissected the flawed launch of the government’s HealthCare.gov website for health insurance.
Congress wants Grimm’s office to devote its attention to COVID-19 fraud, which proliferated as the government pumped out hundreds of billions of dollars to keep the health care system afloat in 2020 when the virus arrived and there were as yet no vaccines or treatments available.