HHS official Janet Rehnquist to resign June 1

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Janet Rehnquist, the daughter of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, will resign as inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department after a controversial tenure.

Rehnquist wrote President Bush that she will leave June 1 to spend more time with her teenage daughters and pursue other professional opportunities.

Congress' General Accounting Office is investigating Rehnquist's management as internal watchdog of the huge health and welfare agency. Her management also is under review by the Integrity Committee of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, a peer group of inspectors general. Rehnquist's job is to investigate fraud, waste and abuse at HHS, including Medicare fraud.

She delayed an audit of Florida's pension fund at the request of Gov. Jeb Bush's chief of staff. The delay ensured that the audit would not be completed until after the November election, in which Bush won a second term.

Several top career staff members at the HHS inspector general's office either quit or said they were forced out. Rehnquist also had possession of a government handgun in her office, raising questions about whether she was authorized to have the weapon.

Rehnquist was appointed by President Bush in August 2001. The position is considered nonpartisan.

In her letter to Bush, Rehnquist did not mention the controversies.

"During my first year in office, our organization saved the American taxpayers over $21 billion," she told Bush. "This was the best year ever for the office, and we are poised to beat those numbers this year."

The Associated Press reported in December that Rehnquist -- responding to a plea from a friend who represented two medical societies -- intervened in an attempt to settle the groups' legal fight with Medicare regulators. Her office wasn't involved in the case.

Rehnquist ordered her legal staff to try and settle the dispute, current and former inspector general officials said.

Prior to the September 2001 episode, the inspector general's office would have shunned involvement in such a matter and would have told groups to take complaints directly to Medicare regulators, according to Rehnquist's predecessor and other officials.

In a letter to GAO last October, Rehnquist said she welcomed the review. "I am confident that your findings will further illustrate our many successes," she wrote.

Insiders have also complained about 19 senior-level staff changes since Rehnquist took over, including the departure of all six deputy inspectors general. All were due to involuntary retirement and reassignments, Grassley said, adding that five of the six former deputies had 30 years or more of experience apiece.

On the Florida controversy, the AP has obtained internal HHS documents that show a draft audit could have been completed before Gov. Bush's re-election if the work had started on time. It was first scheduled to begin last April, but Bush's aide called Rehnquist on April 15 to request the delay. Several postponements delayed the start for five months, and the audit still is not complete.

Rehnquist has said her decision to grant the delays "was based on the merits and not motivated by political reasons." A spokesman for the inspector general also argued that the audit would not have been completed by Election Day even if it had begun on time, though some documents suggest otherwise.


On the Net:

HHS inspector general: http://oig.hhs.gov/

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