A primary responsibility of Congress is oversight of the executive branch. For any administration, but especially the Biden Administration, that means a lot of questions to ask.
In contrast to the number of questions, the opportunities to ask them have been few. The appearance of U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health on April 27 marked his first in person appearance in his current role before the committee with jurisdiction over the department he leads. The same can be said of U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm’s appearance before the Subcommittee on Energy the next day.
For each, I had plenty of questions: about policies they were implementing, problems in their departments, and follow-ups on previous inquiries.
As the Republican Leader of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, I am charged with efforts to keep the executive branch accountable. Since the current House majority and the president share the same party affiliation, Democrats have mostly, although not entirely, lost interest in oversight of the Biden Administration. The majority holds subpoena power, adding to the difficulties of our oversight duties. Nevertheless, Republicans are keeping watch.
Secretary Becerra’s testimony came first. HHS, the department he oversees, has been at the center of the pandemic. It also possesses information about the origins of the pandemic.
Understanding the origins of COVID-19 is essential for accountability and preparedness for any future pandemic. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of HHS, funded work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China near where the pandemic began. I and other Republican leaders on the Energy and Commerce Committee have asked for documents related to these grants.
Our investigation has recently uncovered indications that EcoHealth Alliance, the grant recipient at the Wuhan lab, violated NIH policies on scientific research and possibly covered up data. On this and other aspects of the investigation, we need cooperation from NIH to make progress, but it has not been forthcoming. I asked Secretary Becerra to make NIH and its divisions, including the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases under Dr. Anthony Fauci, answer us.
COVID’s direct toll is well known. The counts of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have become staples of news reporting since the pandemic’s onset. But other damage caused by the pandemic remains in the shadows.
I’ve encouraged HHS to examine the troubling increase in reported mental health problems, especially in young people, and its relation to pandemic lockdowns. The closure of schools and implementation of mask mandates appear to have damaged childhood development. Mental health surveys should account for the toll of lockdowns.
Similarly, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a record high number of drug overdose deaths in the twelve-month period ending in October 2021. Although overdoses were too high before the pandemic, it clearly helped drive an increase in deaths, as people struggling with substance abuse were cut off from treatment and had to cope in isolation. HHS must examine this issue closely.
I also followed up on concerns I have previously expressed about HHS’s poor job vetting sponsors for illegal immigrant minors through its Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The questions I directed at Secretary Granholm concerned the work the Department of Energy does to develop new technologies. The department must protect taxpayer dollars and direct them to projects that will offer real benefits, not serve an ideological agenda.
During the Obama Administration, funding went to projects that had, at best, not been fully vetted. The most infamous, Solyndra, was backed with the department’s loan guarantees long after its future looked doubtful. Solyndra went bankrupt and lost taxpayers millions of dollars.
I asked Secretary Granholm about the status of reforms enacted after Solyndra to avoid a repeat.
Additionally, I encouraged parity in funding for fossil fuel projects. Much of the world, including significant economic players such as China and India, will continue to use fossil fuels. Ignoring this fact when researching the next generation of energy technologies will only cede the chance to curb emissions from these fuels and cost our country potential exports.
The executive branch must be held accountable for its activities, whether through questioning Cabinet secretaries, requesting documents, or, if in the majority, subpoenas. I am committed to oversight to ensure the faithful execution of the laws and the protection of taxpayer interests.
– Congressman H. Morgan Griffith
To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.