Serco, a British-based company that received an Obamacare contract worth up to $1.34 billion, is paying employees to sit idle, nap and play Pictionary on the taxpayer dime, according to recent reports by St. Louis’s KMOV-TV.
But charting the scope of the waste may be impossible, given the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ recent stonewalling. KMOV investigative reporter Chris Nagus tells me CMS has ignored the response deadlines mandated in the federal open-records law, refusing to tell him just how many applications have been processed at Serco’s facilities in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
“I think it would be fair to say that we’ve been waiting for this information for weeks with no specific response to our questions, and we feel like enough time has passed that we’d like to get an answer,” Nagus says. “We think this is important to the public, and we’re concerned by the lack of transparency.”
KMOV-TV submitted its original request to CMS on April 8. Though the Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to produce records within 20 business days, CMS is now nearly two weeks late in its response. Because Serco is a contractor, it has no obligation to respond to media inquiries, either.
CMS should be embarrassed, and not just because it’s stonewalling the media over records that are very clearly public. Despite numerous scandals involving Serco’s performance elsewhere in the world, the company was awarded the contract after spending more than $1 million on lobbying and political activities in recent years.
But embarrassment isn’t a valid excuse for a federal agency to withhold public records. The longer CMS delays, the more sketchy it looks.
— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.