HHS to Issa: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Image: HHS to Issa: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Thursday, 12 Dec 2013 06:40 PM

By Cynthia Fagen

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The Health and Human Services Department told House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa that it won’t turn over documents related to the security of the Healthcare.gov website because it can’t trust him to keep the confidential information from falling into the hands of hackers, Politico reported Thursday.

Issa, R-Calif., issued a subpoena to MITRE, a government contractor, to turn over un-redacted copies, by noon Friday, of its security-testing website development documents drafted for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is under HHS.

Issa has already been given access to the documents in which committee staffers were able to review them in a secure room but not keep them — but now he wants copies.

Administration officials are concerned that Issa intends to make them public, which could compromise the security of the site by leaving it vulnerable to hackers determined to destroy the system.

Government officials say Issa has been too loose with sensitive material in the past, including the names of Libyans who were assisting the U.S. during operations in their country, the details of secret wiretaps in the “Fast and Furious” investigation, and TSA documents that included security information, according to Politico.

Issa is accusing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of committing “criminal obstruction” of a congressional investigation by instructing contractors working on the HealthCare.gov site not to provide documents to Congress. “The Department’s most recent effort to stonewall, however, has morphed from mere obstinacy into criminal obstruction of a congressional investigation,” Issa wrote in a letter to Sebelius Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary for Legislation Jim Esquea responded to Issa in a letter that “the committee’s unwillingness to commit to undertake measures to address the security risks associated with further disclosure is troubling, particularly in light of reports that sensitive materials were disclosed through various investigations.”

“As you are aware, MITRE shares our assessment regarding the risks from public disclosure of these documents and has warned, most recently in its letter of December 4, 2013, that the information they contain ‘could be used to hack the system … and may pose a risk to the confidentiality of consumer information accessible through healthcare.gov if disclosed." However, Esquea offered to let a third party judge whether their publication of the documents could pose a security risk.

Issa spokesman Frederick Hill responded in an email Thursday that "it’s an unacceptable violation of law and a dangerous precedent for any Administration to tell a private company not to respond to a lawful subpoena."

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