Citing unnamed Congressional sources, the Associated Press reported that Rehnquist, daughter of Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is set to resign as HHS Inspector General after, among other things, delaying an audit of Florida’s state pension fund. The delay was at the request of Florida Governor Jeb Bush, President Bush’s brother.
The postponement assured that the audit wouldn’t be released before Election Day last fall, when Bush was facing a tight reelection race. It was first scheduled to begin last April, but the governor’s chief of staff called Rehnquist on April 15 to request a delay. Several postponements did delay the start for five months.
Internal HHS documents show that a draft audit would have been completed before Bush’s re-election if the work had started on time. Rehnquist has said her decision to grant the delays “was based on the merits and not motivated by political reasons.” The GAO is investigating the issue, according to the AP.
The issue may have been politically perilous for Bush, the president’s brother. The Florida Board of Administration, which runs the pension fund, has been under scrutiny because it invested and lost $300 million in the bankrupt energy company Enron. The federal audit focused on whether the state properly accounted for US. contributions to the pension program.
Congress is investigating Rehnquist’s work as internal watchdog of the agency, including her decision to force out several top career staff members. Her management also is under review by the Integrity Committee of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, a peer group of inspectors general.
Investigators on the Senate Finance Committee have said they have heard about questionable practices from dozens of people who work for the HHS inspector general’s office. Specifically, congressional aides said they have heard from credible sources that Rehnquist had an unloaded, service-issued 9 mm handgun in her office, even though she is not licensed to carry it, as well as a poster of a target in her office.
Sens. Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), and Max Baucus, (D-Montana), leaders of the Finance Committee, requested that the GAO do a complete management review. Grassley said he had heard “numerous allegations” from whistle-blowers in the inspector general’s office.
Insiders have also complained about 19 senior-level staff changes since Rehnquist took over, including the departure of all six deputy inspectors general. All were due to involuntary retirement and reassignments, Grassley said, adding that five of the six former deputies had 30 years or more of experience apiece.
Rehnquist’s job has been to investigate fraud, waste, and abuse at HHS, including Medicare fraud. She reportedly said in her resignation letter that she wanted to spend more time with her family.
Rehnquist was appointed by President Bush in August 2001. The position is considered nonpartisan.
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