The Trump administration has not so far been known for its integrity and honor. It has, in fact, had many instances of corruption, grifting, and weird, expensive purchases. It is with this lens that we must view the news that Seema Verma, who runs the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and is a disgrace with an awful record, has been giving away millions of dollars in subcontracts to well-connected GOP communications firms.
Politico reported today that Verma “directed millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts to Republican communications consultants,” which came “at a time when Verma has made cuts elsewhere, such as reducing advertising for Obamacare enrollment by tens of millions of dollars.” The contracts also were made despite the fact that CMS has its own communications arm.
One CMS official told Politico: “The head of Obamacare doesn’t need outside consultants to get reporters to talk to her.” Indeed!
According to Politico, the contracts were part of a larger contract with Porter Novelli, and shockingly, the consultants weren’t always on the level:
In a February 2018 incident, contractor Brett O’Donnell barred a Modern Healthcare reporter from a media call for refusing to alter a story that had rankled Verma. CMS officials walked back that threat within days and said a week later that Porter Novelli’s subcontract with O’Donnell, a longtime GOP consultant, would not be renewed. But CMS never provided any explanation of O’Donnell’s role or responsibilities. O’Donnell declined to comment for this article.
The contracts’ purpose seems to have been personally pushing and promoting Verma. One contractor, Pam Stevens, reportedly had “a reputation for securing flattering profiles of Republican women,” and successfully used her expertise to launder Verma’s disgusting record of enacting cruel work requirements through the softer lens of “emphasizing her personal life and her role as a prominent Republican woman.”
Another contract went to Marcus Barlow, who Verma reportedly worked with in Indiana (there, Verma helped design one of the worst Medicaid expansions in the country under former Govs. Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence) and “considered hiring as a top communications official in 2017 before he was blocked by the White House.” The reason? He had prevously written a column for the Indianapolis Business Journal calling Trump “offensive and ignorant,” and said he wouldn’t vote for him.
But it all ended well, since Politico reports that Barlow was paid “between $185 and $200 per hour” for his work for CMS.
The agency defended the contracts to Politico by saying that they wouldn’t be necessary “now that we’re fully staffed up.” Two years into the presidency. You know how it takes two years to really know what you’re doing in a job, where to find the pens, how to work the coffee machine, and so on.
One has to wonder whether Verma’s biggest communications victories were the result of these lucrative contracts:
Great stuff! Epic win!