FOIA Documents Reveal Sequestration Propaganda in HHS Letters to Governors of All 50 States
MARCH 28, 2013
Documents reveal partisan attacks, questionable claims about teacher layoffs and HHS Secretary Sebelius admission that sequestration would not affect agency operations
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it received documents on March 19, 2013, from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) revealing that Deputy Secretary of State William Corr had sent highly politicized letters to the governors of all 50 states attacking Congress and providing misleading information about the effects of the budget sequestration mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. The documents also contained memos from Secretary of HHS Katherine Sebelius indicating that sequestration would have little effect upon department operations.
The documents came in response to a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made to HHS on February 26, 2013. The FOIA request asked for: “Any and all records regarding, concerning, or related to the projected effects of the potential budget sequestration mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.”
Documents provided by HHS to Judicial Watch included letters sent in early March from Corr to the governors of each of the 50 states politicizing the sequestration:
“As you are likely aware, due to the failures of Congress [emphasis added] to reach a deal on balanced deficit reduction to avoid sequestration, a series of spending cuts call sequestration will cancel approximately $85 billion in budgetary resources across the federal government for the remainder of the federal fiscal year.”
Each of the fifty Corr letters detail alleged specific cuts for each state, including the previously debunked claim that sequestration would lead to “school systems forced to lay off teachers, teacher assistants, and other staff.” Other threatened cuts include: Head Start and Early Head Start, Social Services, Senior Nutrition Programs, Maternal and Child Healthcare, and Substance Abuse Treatment/Prevention.
In a Washington Post article on February 27, 2013, entitled “4 Pinocchio’s for Arne Duncan’s false claim of ‘pink slips’ for teachers,” the Post found that earlier claims by Secretary of the Department of Education (DOE) Duncan of teacher layoffs “appears to be hyperbole”
“[T]he Education Department for days was unable to cough up the name of a single school district where these notices had been delivered … [T]here is no reason to hype the statistics — or to make scary pronouncements on pink slips being issued based on misinformation. Indeed, Duncan’s lack of seriousness about being scrupulously factual undercuts the administration’s claim that the cuts are a serious problem.”
Notwithstanding the failure of the DOE to produce “the name of a single school district “ where sequestration had resulted in layoffs, Corr, in his official letter to the governors of all 50 states, informed the governors that they would be forced to lay off their state’s school teachers.
Other documents show HHS had informed its own employees that the sequestration would not affect the ability of HHS to carry out its wide-ranging programs. In a memo dated December 20, 2012, Secretary of HHS Katherine Sebelius informed HHS employees:
“I do not expect our day-to-day would change dramatically on or immediately after January 2, should sequestration occur. This means we will not be executing any immediate personnel actions, such as furloughs, on that date.”
In a HHS memo dated March 1, 2013, Sebelius again minimized the impact of the sequestration, reassuring HHS employees:
“It is vitally important to keep in mind the distinction between the reduction in spending authority triggered by the sequestration and the complete absence of funding associated with a government shutdown. Unlike a shutdown, sequestration does not trigger an automatic break in service. Please plan to continue your scheduled work, even if sequestration goes into effect as anticipated.”
“The documents obtained by Judicial Watch reveal a well-orchestrated attempt by the Obama administration to mislead the American people and the nation’s governors,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “These propaganda letters are a misuse of taxpayer resources and show that HHS, the agency charged with running Obamacare, is out of control.”