Trump health officials face investigation for deliberately violating federal law

Discussion in 'Politics' started by gwb-trading, Feb 3, 2021.

  1. gwb-trading


    Trump health officials face investigation for deliberately violating federal law by gagging CDC and HHS personnel -- thereby allowing the pandemic to freely spread.

    Records Pried Loose By BuzzFeed News Have Prompted A Demand For The Investigation Of Former Trump Health Officials
    Under Trump, health officials sought to control the message and limit interactions with the media as the pandemic raged through America, raising questions about violations of anti-gag rules.

    Citing documents obtained by BuzzFeed News, two independent government watchdog groups are calling for an investigation into whether a top health official in the Trump administration violated federal anti-gag laws in trying to silence members of the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services.

    BuzzFeed News has reported that Michael Caputo, a controversial Republican operative handpicked last year by then-president Donald Trump to control messaging around the coronavirus pandemic, lambasted CDC and HHS personnel for discussing COVID-19 response plans with reporters and demanded to know how an interview conducted with an HHS official was approved.

    In addition, Caputo’s science adviser at the time, Paul Alexander, sent a lengthy email last August to Caputo, former CDC director Robert Redfield, and other health officials encouraging them to suppress and edit the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration and meant at this time to impact school re-openings and they then send it to the media knowing it is deceiving. I ask it to be stopped now!” Alexander wrote in the email, which was first obtained by Politico.

    On Tuesday, the two watchdog groups — Open the Government and the Government Accountability Project — sent a letter requesting action from the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that protects government employee rights. The groups argued that Caputo’s and Alexander’s edicts were aimed at stifling HHS and CDC employees’ free speech rights and violated the anti-gag provision in the 2012 federal Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which states that any restriction on employees' speech has to be accompanied by language informing them of their rights to blow the whistle.

    “Separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by BuzzFeed News and our organizations recently returned records evidencing these violations in primary documents, including email correspondence and agency communication policies,” the letter to Henry Kerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel, states.

    Referencing protections for federal workers and the dire consequences of a deadly pandemic, the letter says: “The alarming violations of these rights by HHS leadership require a strong response. Otherwise, a workforce chilled from disclosing substantial and specific threats to public health and safety may never thaw. This chilling effect can be especially deadly during a historic health emergency.”

    Because Caputo and Alexander have left the government, they can't face any repercussions. The Office of Special Counsel could still order HHS to rescind the orders Caputo issued and remind employees of their whistleblower rights, the watchdog groups said.

    The groups have previously been successful in getting the Office of Special Counsel to probe similar incidents aimed at silencing federal employees at the CDC and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

    Lisa Rosenberg, executive director of Open the Government, told BuzzFeed News in a statement: “It is unconscionable that the public's right to information is hampered at a time when the need for accurate and timely scientific data could not be more urgent.”

    “These revelations underscore the need for more transparency at HHS and for the Biden Administration to repeal autocratic gag orders,” she said.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Mark Weber, who succeeded Caputo, told BuzzFeed News that HHS issued a new media policy this month that appears to unwind restrictions Caputo implemented. In response to questions from BuzzFeed News about Caputo and whether he ran afoul of the anti-gag law, Weber quoted the new media guidance, which says:

    “HHS is committed to a culture of openness with the media and public that values the free exchange of ideas, data, and information and doing so in a manner that is timely, responsive, and accurate. In keeping with the desire for a culture of openness, HHS employees may, consistent with this policy, speak to members of the press about their work.”

    Caputo, who was also a campaign aide to Trump during his 2016 presidential bid and is a close confidant of political strategist Roger Stone, was tapped by Trump last April as assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS. Soon after, Caputo hired Alexander, a Canadian health researcher. The two have been accused of politicizing the agency and undermining the work of scientists; more than 100 pages of emails obtained by BuzzFeed News highlighted some of those actions.

    The letter cites Caputo’s reaction to reporting last summer by CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, who sent an email to Caputo trying to confirm that HHS’s vaccine initiative, dubbed Operation Warp Speed, was “working on a vaccine education campaign for the public to increase the chances that people will get the COVID vaccine when it comes out.”

    Caputo, the watchdogs’ letter says, “sought to squash the story,” suggesting to Cohen her source was wrong and “does not have actual visibility of the issue.”

    “I’d hate to see CNN put out an [sic] wildly incorrect story,” he wrote.

    Cohen responded saying her sources were Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokesperson. Caputo then fired off an angry email to then–CDC director Robert Redfield, Nordlund, and other HHS and CDC officials.


    A month later, in July, Caputo sent an email to Nina Witkofsky, then the acting chief of staff at the CDC, and other HHS and CDC officials stating that “according to longstanding policy, no media interviews are permitted” without HHS clearance. “No exceptions.”

    The next day Caputo sent an email to Redfield, Witkofsky, and other CDC officials demanding to know the name of the press officer who approved three NPR interviews.


    “I need to know who did it and we will look into the matter,” Caputo wrote.

    Irvin McCullough, the deputy director for legislation with the Government Accountability Project and one of the signers of the letter calling for an investigation, told BuzzFeed News Caputo’s emails are a textbook example of illegally gagging a federal employee.

    “Someone reading that might get the impression they can't blow the whistle or disclose information to the media during a public health emergency,” said McCullough, who has recently published four op-eds about federal workers rights under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. “It’s a clear-cut violation of an employee’s anti-gag rights.”

    Alexander, meanwhile, sent politically charged emails to numerous officials about masks and about allegations of racism at the agency. In one email he asserted that the media has “no concern for lives lost” due to COVID-19.

    Neither Caputo nor Alexander could be reached for comment.

    Caputo’s tenure at HHS ended on Sept. 16, 2020, a couple of days after he posted a video on his Facebook page accusing CDC scientists of “sedition” and being part of a “resistance unit” that was plotting against Trump. Alexander exited shortly thereafter.
    userque likes this.
  2. Here4money


    How can it be OP? I was promised by redhats on this very board that this wasn't happening! I was assured that bootlicking florida man couldn't possibly be following the feds' lead!
  3. gwb-trading


    It is time to also investigate the Appointment System contract that the Trump administration forced the CDC to issue to Deloitte. There are several off-the-shelf existing appointment systems such as PrepMod that are more customizable and have a proven track record. Many states are using PrepMod.

    The US paid Deloitte $44 million for a vaccine appointment system laden with glitches. Some states are scrambling for an alternative.
    • The CDC gave Deloitte $44 million as a federal contractor to build a website for vaccine appointments.
    • Most states chose not to use the tool due to concerns about its performance, but nine states opted in.
    • Several health officials from those states say they're experiencing technical glitches, including site crashes and canceled appointments.
    Americans eligible for coronavirus vaccines are still struggling to get appointments.

    "Every clinic, every hospital has its own mechanism of communicating, recruiting, and setting up appointments," Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi's state health officer, said in a Thursday press briefing. "That's the real challenge because we have basically 100 different ways to do the same thing."

    It wasn't supposed to be this difficult. In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed a $16 million deal with the consulting firm Deloitte, a top federal IT contractor, to create a centralized website through which states could schedule their vaccine appointments. The system was also meant to monitor vaccine inventory and report each shot as it was administered. Deloitte received another $28 million for the project in December — bringing the total to $44 million.

    The tool the company produced is called the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). State officials and health clinics can use the site for free to coordinate their vaccine rollouts. But in the end, only nine states opted in, with the rest — Mississippi included — deciding against VAMS. Many said no to the system due to concerns about its performance.

    "We declined to use VAMS after vetting it in January, spending a lot of time looking at it and kicking the tires," Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at the Thursday briefing. "We found that it had several limitations and so we did not activate it at all."

    Most states are now left without a centralized system to streamline their responses. But of the nine states that did start using VAM — including Connecticut, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia — many have encountered technological glitches, including website crashes, canceled appointments, and login difficulties.

    Since mid-December, VAMS has helped administer just around 4% of the total shots given in the US, or more than 1.5 million.

    Canceled appointments and no confirmation emails

    States encountered problems with VAMS shortly after vaccinations began in December.

    Marshall Taylor, acting director of South Carolina's health department, told Greenville News that the system would spontaneously cancel appointments and couldn't differentiate between a first or second dose (both Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines require two shots).

    VAMS, he said, "has become a cuss word" at his department.

    Lorrin Pang, the district health officer in Maui, Hawaii, told MIT Technology Review that the tool wouldn't let him send instructions to people about how to prepare for their vaccine appointments. The system often locked him out of the dashboard for clinic administrators, he added. Pang's drive-through clinic quickly returned to recording vaccinations by hand.

    In New Hampshire, residents reported that they didn't receive confirmation emails for their second dose appointments.

    "The VAMS system clearly has issues. It is clunky, it is messy, and we really can't control it," New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu told the New Hampshire Union Leader.

    Officials say VAMS 'hasn't lived up to its promises'

    A Deloitte spokesperson told Insider that VAMS was originally designed to help the CDC track the distribution and administration of vaccines "at a limited number of pre-selected sites." But as a courtesy to states without the time or resources to create or procure their own scheduling systems, he added, the CDC gave them the option to use VAMS.

    "Since it went live to support the critical first phase of vaccinations, VAMS has had no downtime due to system or performance issues," the Deloitte spokesperson said. "While some users have reported challenges, VAMS is not spontaneously canceling appointments."

    The CDC did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

    According to Shah, VAMS was supposed to be available to everyone who wanted to register for an appointment. But the tool "really hasn't lived up to its promises," he said. Without a centralized system, the process of soliciting vaccine appointments in Maine has been "suboptimal," Shah added.

    "One can hope that there will be a successor [to VAMS] in the future," he said.

    But creating any centralized, government-run website is "super hard," according to Pouria Sanae, CEO of ixlayer, a health software company that helps streamline COVID-19 testing and some vaccinations for businesses, health systems, and government branches.

    "Take taxes as an example," Sanae told Insider. "We don't have a centralized tax platform, and that's something we do every year."

    A 'Google-like effort' with 'old-school' technology

    The CDC identified Deloitte as the only "responsible source" capable of building a centralized vaccination platform, so the company didn't have to bid on the project. Many software experts, however, think VAMS would have been in better hands with a large technology company.

    "It's a Google-like effort," Sanae said. "It's not meant for government organizations to do."

    To avoid bottlenecks in the vaccine rollout, he added, states need a website that can consistently be updated while in use. That way, if a patient misses an appointment or clinics run low on doses, those hurdles won't slow down the entire vaccination process.

    Deloitte's technology, by contrast, is "old-school," Sanae said. It relies on a fixed "waterfall model" that, for the most part, can't handle many changes.

    "There's a reason why Apple and Windows are bugging us with these updates: because they're iterating," he said. "We really need that for any software that's going to support vaccination."

    VAMS is likely to create more bottlenecks down the road, Sanae thinks, as people return for their second shots.

    "One thing that you will see in a month, I guarantee you, is people that got the first dose showing up to different locations carrying different vaccines, showing up in different states," he said.

    Switching systems poses new challenges

    At least one state, Virginia, is already transitioning from VAMS to a different vaccination system, called PrepMod, which is also used by several other states. Tammie Smith, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health, told Bloomberg that the platform is "more customizable" than VAMS.

    Still, at the start of February, a flaw in the PrepMod system allowed a handful of residents in Roanoke Valley, Virginia to sign up for vaccine appointments before they were eligible. The residents had gotten hold of a registration link that wasn't meant to be sent out, local television station WSLS reported.

    California clinics and nursing homes have also had difficulty accessing the PrepMod system, according to the Los Angeles Times.

    Sanae said PrepMod has found it a "bit tricky" to onboard patients. He added that states may also have a hard time transferring patient data from VAMS to a new platform. He likened the process to switching each person's Gmail account to Yahoo.

    Changing appointment systems could be costly, too.

    "At some point with IT solutions, there is a bit of a lock-in effect and the cost of switching from one registration platform to another can be significant," Shah said.

    But he added that some states are still looking to abandon VAMS as quickly as possible.

    "I've spoken with at least one counterpart of mine, where their state did activate [VAMS], and they can't wait to find another solution," Shah said.

    Maura Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, told Bloomberg that her state is exploring alternative systems. New Hampshire also plans to unveil a new scheduling system by March.
  4. gwb-trading


    The entire situation with PrepMod is getting even more messy..... it looks like the Trump appointed CDC administrators provided the concept and technical architecture from the company to Deloitte for their insider contract. Of course the primary difference is that the VAMS system created by Deloitte is a dismal failure, and PrepMod is robust & operates correctly in over 27 states.

    Immunization expert accuses CDC of stealing COVID-19 tracking idea

    An immunization expert is accusing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with a company called Deloitte for stealing her ideas for a mass vaccination tracker.

    A cease-and-desist letter from August obtained by The New York Times shows Tiffany Tate, creator of vaccination tracker PrepMod, is seeking $15 million in damages after she believes the CDC and Deloitte took the ideas from her vaccination tracker and implemented them in their own Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS)

    The letter outlines the events that led up to Deloitte and the CDC’s deal and claims that they obtained details of Tate's work and then implemented similar features in their own system.

    Deloitte even tried to hire Tate in June to help develop the system she claims she already has with PrepMod.

    Tate, who has spent her career helping get minorities vaccinated, told the Times that she was “in shock, and I really was heartbroken because I’ve worked with these people my entire career and I respected them and I trusted them.”

    Deloitte told The New York Times that the claims are “baseless.”

    "[VAMS is a] scalable, Salesforce-based application designed to CDC’s requirements and not based on [Tate’s ideas]," said spokesman Jonathan Gandel.

    Tate started talking with the CDC in March of last year when the pandemic first began. In a meeting in March, Tate did agree to allow the CDC to see details about PrepMod, according to the letter.

    After presenting her system to the CDC and Deloitte in April, Tate alleges the CDC's Immunization Information Systems Director asked about the cost of the system and wanted to meet with Tate’s technical team.

    In May, CDC and Deloitte received details about Tate’s system with the CDC admitting it wasn’t prepared to take on vaccination distribution with its current system, the letter states. The CDC later unveiled VAMS, which Tate says has a similar structure as PrepMod.

    Later in May, when a new feature was added to PrepMod, VAMS allegedly added a similar feature shortly after.

    At the end of the month, the CDC offered Deloitte a $15.8 million contract “essentially to reproduce PrepMod,” according to the letter. The offer was $.5 million more than Tate asked for her system.

    Tate’s original plan was to license her system to the CDC so states could receive it for free, but she ended up selling it to states directly after the CDC partnered with Deloitte, The New York Times reported.

    PrepMod is being used in 27 states while VAMS is only being used in 10 states.

    The cease-and-desist calls for a halt on any developments to the VAMS system and the cancelation of all demonstrations of the system.

    The Hill has reached out to the CDC and Deloitte for comment.