President Trump is moving to replace the Department of Health and Human Services watchdog whose office found severe shortages of medical supplies in hospitals as COVID-19 cases surged.
In a Friday night announcement, the White House named Jason Weida as its nominee to take the permanent inspector general post currently occupied by Christi Grimm, who’s been in that role in an acting capacity since January.
A longtime staffer with Health and Human Services, Grimm was leading the inspector general’s office in April when it issued a report chronicling testing delays — up to seven days in some cases — as well as severe shortages of supplies in hospitals amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hospitals reported that they were unable to keep up with COVID-19 testing demands because they lacked complete kits and/or the individual components and supplies needed to complete tests,” the survey of 323 hospitals found. “When patient stays were extended while awaiting test results, this strained bed availability, personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, and staffing.”
The report also recalled how one hospital had even resorted to making its own disinfectant.
Trump reacted to the report by calling its findings “wrong,” asking to know the name of the inspector general and suggesting the report was politically motivated. He later took to Twitter to castigate Grimm and the report even further.
“Why didn’t the I.G., who spent 8 years with the Obama Administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, V.P. & others in charge, before doing her report. Another Fake Dossier!” Trump tweeted in early April.
Grimm is a career official, not a political appointee, and began serving in the Office of the Inspector General in 1999.
The nomination of Weida — currently an assistant U.S. attorney — marks the latest replacement of a high-level watchdog by the president. A month ago, he fired the inspector general who raised concerns that eventually led to his impeachment. Days later, he removed the inspector general charged with overseeing the government’s coronavirus response bill.
Sen. Patty Murray, ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said that Trump’s nominee “must not get through the Senate without ironclad commitments” to continue the agency’s current investigations without political interference.
“We all know the President hasn’t told people the truth about this virus or his Administration’s response, and late last night, he moved to silence an independent government official who did,” Murray said in a statement released on Saturday. “Anyone who demands less will be complicit in the President’s clear pattern of retaliation against those who tell the truth.”
Health and Human Services did not comment to NPR on Grimm’s future role, but said in a statement that the agency had been preparing “to assist a new Inspector General appointee over a year ago, when the previous presidentially-appointed and senate-confirmed Inspector General first announced his intention to retire from government service. We will continue to work conscientiously to support a smooth leadership transition.”