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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Coburn Going After Data on CDC Center Construction; Bloggers Should Ask For a Copy, Too

This is what congressional oversight should be about. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, today asked the
Bush administration to produce all the relevant documentation of the costs and contract administration of the $1.2 billion Center for Disease Control construction project in Atlanta.

This project has been the focus of controversy over its costs at a time when federal resources are needed to assist with Hurricane recovery in the Gulf States.

It has also been the object of attention as a result of efforts to have the Center named after Sen. Arlen Specter, R-PA, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, who have championed the project from its inception. Federal law prevents naming such federal buildings after incumbent Members of Congress.

It will be worth watching very closely to see how the executive branch responds to this letter from Coburn to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt. Odds are in this corner that Coburn will not get anything near everything he is seeking:

January 11, 2006

Honorable Michael O. Leavitt
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Leavitt,

I think you would agree with me that at this time when our nation faces the threats of bioterrorism, emerging diseases such as avian flu, continuing health threats such as HIV/AIDS and cancer, and an ever growing national debt that now exceeds $8.1 trillion, we must responsibly prioritize how federal funds are spent.

As you know, Congress appropriated nearly $1 billion over the past five years and another $160 million for fiscal year 2006 to pay for the planning, design and construction of new facilities, and repair and renovation of existing facilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In addition to some much needed new labs, this funding paid for the agency's new visitors' center, a sloping "greenscape" with a giant Japanese garden and an artificial stream running over and around artificial rocks on the CDC campus, and a new fitness center.

Could you please provide a detailed line item of all expenditures related to the CDC's construction over the past five years including, but not limited to, the following:
(1) Total cost for the new visitors' center;
(2) Total cost for the "greenscape," including the Japanese garden, streams and artificial rocks;
(3) An exact listing of furniture and appliances (e.g., televisions, desks, chairs, exercise equipment, etc.) purchased for the new buildings with cost for each;
(4) An estimate of the total amount necessary to complete the CDC's buildings and Facilities Master Plan;
(5) An estimate of amounts spent or expected to be spent on marketing to promote the new visitors' center.

According to a letter dated August 16, 2005 from Charles E. Johnson, Assistant Secretary for Budget, Technology and Finance, as of fiscal year 2004, CDC had over $200 million in unobligated, or unspent, funds. (6) Please provide a breakdown of these amounts by Center and program.

According to another letter dated October 4, 2005 from Assistant Secretary Johnson, CDC was expected to spend $7.6 million on conferences in 2005 and HHS was expected to spend a total of $68.5 million. (7) How much do you expect CDC and HHS, as a whole, to spend on conferences in 2006? If available, please provide a list of the conferences that are expected to be assisted with funding, participation or other support.

Thank you for your attention to this request. I look forward to working with you in the coming year to improve the health of all Americans and to protect the taxpayers.


Tom A. Coburn, M.D.
Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management

The fact that Coburn's letter is being published in full on the Internet is an illustration of how the Blogosphere can fisk government programs. To that end, bloggers should contact Suzy DeFrancis, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at HHS, and ask for a copy of Leavitt's response to Coburn and its supporting documentation.

I was unable to locate an email address for DeFrancis on the HHS web site, but here is the contact info for her office:

HHS Press OfficePhone:
(202) 690-6343
Fax: (202) 690-6247
Website: http://www.hhs.gov/news