It took U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan three months to respond to several letters from Republican U.S. senators asking for details of his department’s involvement in promoting ObamaCare.
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) will share “basic materials developed by [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] for our stakeholders to use at their discretion,” Duncan wrote in September. DOE “has devoted a very minimal amount of staff time and resources for these efforts.”
Duncan did not respond to senators’ request that he cite what law authorizes DOE to help promote ObamaCare, explain what DOE is asking of individual schools, what the promotional activities cost, and how many hours DOE staff are using each day to promote ObamaCare, said Sen. John Thune’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong: “We will continue to seek answers to these outstanding questions.”
“We are concerned the outreach is beyond Department of Education and other agencies’ authority,” said Liz Wolgemuth, press secretary for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN).
The first letter, dated July 16 and spearheaded by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), was prompted by a Politico interview with Duncan in July. Interviewer Lois Romano asked Duncan if “schools [are] going to be disseminating information to help families?”
“Schools are going to be doing everything they can,” replied Duncan. “We actually have a team here helping—obviously, more on the margins but helping the [Affordable Care Act].”
Education or Healthcare?
Duncan’s response brought questions from 19 senators about the goals and authority of such a team. Their letter asks “how the Department of Education’s involvement in implementation will further the mission of educating our nation’s students.” It also asks how much the Education Department is going to spend in their efforts to disseminate information, where the funds came from, and what guidelines were created for them.
The letter requested answers by July 30. U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) spokesman Stephen Spector said he was not aware of any response sent to the senators. The department has issued a general statement, instead.
“The Department is providing this information through written materials, online tools and in-person meetings and trainings. The Department is not providing technical assistance on implementation,” wrote USDOE spokesman Cameron French. “Among the most important provisions for families and students is access to preventative care that will result in students spending more time in the classroom learning, and less time outside of class recovering from preventable illnesses. The Department is providing this information through written materials, online tools and in-person meetings and trainings. The Department is not providing technical assistance on implementation. This effort will continue to be led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”
The letter also asks how these USDOE actions differ from those taken by the Department of Health and Human Services and whether the two are coordinating to reduce double duty.
“It is an administration-wide effort to implement the law of the land—using existing resources,” Spector said. He said no specific team exists for the project, and employees across all departments are helping out.
A Second Letter
The senators will not let the issue subside. In response to Duncan’s lack of one, 39 Republican senators sent the White House a letter on August 1 asking “for more information on ObamaCare implementation at 21 federal agencies, including Department of Education,” said Thune spokeswoman AshLee Strong.
This letter, addressed to White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, followed a Washington Post article noting new White House hires and extra hours its chief of staff has been spending on the healthcare law rollout.
The letter requests the “specific statutory authority [of] each agency and program helping to disseminate information; a description of how their activities further the statutory missions of each agency and program involved; and any written legal opinions clearing each and every agency activity—whether by agency counsel or your office—to explain the justification for using unrelated agencies to promote the health care law.”
The second letter had set a deadline of August 14 for the White House counsel to respond. Duncan issued his statement September 12.
Image by NASA.