Top Trump official Seema Verma ‘abused’ government rules by spending $3.5 million in taxpayer money to boost her own profile, according to a congressional investigation
© Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images Seema Verma, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator
- Seema Verma, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services chief, “abused the federal contracting process” and “wasted millions of taxpayer dollars,” according to a new congressional investigation.
- Verma paid a team of expensive media consultants to help her land high-profile interviews, meet with journalists and lawmakers, and craft written materials.
- In one instance, Verma paid consultants nearly $3,000 in taxpayer money to put together a “Girl’s Night” at USA Today reporter Susan Page’s Washington home.
- In July 2020, the Health and Human Services inspector general found that Verma broke federal contracting rules.
- HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo called the congressional report “another reckless drive-by election year hit job” in a statement to Politico.
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Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “abused the federal contracting process” and “wasted millions of taxpayer dollars” on consultants and other services to boost her own profile, lawmakers found as part of a lengthy congressional investigation.
The alleged abuses included Verma hiring a team of pricey media consultants to help her land high-profile interviews, schedule meetings with journalists, lawmakers, and other Trump administration staffers, and draft speeches, talking points, and op-eds.
Democratic lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce, House Oversight, Senate Finance, and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including consultants’ invoices and Verma’s emails during their 18-month investigation, the conclusions of which were first reported by Politico on Thursday.
Verma was brought into the administration by Vice President Mike Pence, whom she advised on health policy when he was governor of Indiana. The CMS chief has played a key role in the administration’s coronavirus response and has championed President Donald Trump’s controversial efforts to implement a work requirement for Medicaid.
The probe found that Verma directed CMS to pay public relations firm Nahigian Strategies, which is led by a former Trump aide, almost $3 million before CMS ended the contract last year following media scrutiny. Verma also hired Marcus Barlow, a former spokesperson for her private health consulting firm, to consult for her during her first years at CMS after the administration rejected her attempt to hire him at HHS.
In one example of Verma’s controversial spending, CMS paid a communications specialist and former Trump administration official, Pam Stevens, $115,000 to book Verma on conservative media outlets and set up interviews with prominent Washington reporters.
In another instance, Verma paid consultants nearly $3,000 in taxpayer money to put together a “Girl’s Night” at USA Today journalist Susan Page’s Washington home. And Verma spent nearly $14,000 to have consultants organize the filming of a short video promoting her “eMedicare Initiative.”
“Congress did not intend for taxpayer dollars to be spent on handpicked communications consultants used to promote Administrator Verma’s public profile and personal brand,” Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone and Carolyn Maloney and Sens. Ron Wyden and Patty Murray said in a joint statement to Politico. “Administrator Verma has shown reckless disregard for the public’s trust. We believe she should personally reimburse the taxpayers for these inappropriate expenditures.”
HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo called the congressional report “another reckless drive-by election year hit job” in a statement to Politico. The White House did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Politico first reported on Verma’s expensive consulting contracts in March 2019. In July 2020, the Health and Human Services inspector general found that Verma broke federal contracting rules by contracting with expensive outside consultants rather than utilizing the 200 government communications staffers at her disposal.
“CMS improperly administered the contracts and created improper employer-employee relationships between CMS and the contractors,” the inspector general wrote. “CMS’s administration of these contracts put the Government at increased risk for waste and abuse.”
Verma has also made headlines for requesting the government reimburse her for $47,000 in jewelry and other personal items reportedly stolen from a rental car during a July 2018 trip she made to San Francisco. Among the items Verma requested she be reimbursed for was a $325 moisturizing cream and a $5,900 Ivanka Trump brand pendant. The agency said Verma was ultimately reimbursed $2,852.40 for the stolen items.