HHS Official Janet Rehnquist, Under Probe, to Resign June 1; Aides Say She's Not Being Pushed
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON March 5 - Janet Rehnquist, the daughter of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is leaving her job as the Health and Human Services official who investigates fraud and waste in Medicare and a range of other social programs.
Congressional officials are investigating Rehnquist's management decisions as the HHS inspector general, but Bush administration aides said she was not pushed out.
Rehnquist wrote President Bush on Tuesday that she will leave June 1 to spend more time with her teenage daughters and pursue other professional opportunities.
She delayed an audit of Florida's pension fund at the request of a top aide to Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother. The delay ensured that the audit would not be completed until after the November election, in which Bush won a second term.
Several top career staff members in Rehnquist's office either quit or said they were forced out. Rehnquist also kept a government handgun in her office, raising questions about whether she was authorized to have the weapon.
In addition to Congress' General Accounting Office, Rehnquist's management is under review by the Integrity Committee of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, a peer group of inspectors general.
Two senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that after Rehnquist made her plans known both the White House and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's office told Rehnquist she did not need to resign.
Rehnquist was appointed by President Bush in August 2001. The position is considered nonpartisan.
In her letter to Bush, Rehnquist did not mention the controversies.
"During my first year in office, our organization saved the American taxpayers over $21 billion," she told Bush. "This was the best year ever for the office, and we are poised to beat those numbers this year."
Thompson, the HHS secretary, called Rehnquist "a strong and effective investigator" and said she had "a clear and determined vision for fighting fraud and abuse."
The White House also praised her. "The president appreciates her service very much and wishes her well," said spokeswoman Ashley Snee.
The Associated Press reported in December that Rehnquist responding to a plea from a friend who represented two medical societies intervened in an attempt to settle the groups' legal fight with Medicare regulators. Her office wasn't involved in the case.
Rehnquist ordered her legal staff to try and settle the dispute, current and former inspector general officials said.
Before that September 2001 episode, the inspector general's office would have shunned involvement in such a matter and would have told groups to take complaints directly to Medicare regulators, according to Rehnquist's predecessor and other officials. It was not clear whether the GAO was looking into the Medicare intervention.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Rehnquist's biggest critic in Congress, called her decision "the right step. The inspector general job wasn't a good fit for her abilities."
In a letter to GAO last October, Rehnquist said she welcomed the review. "I am confident that your findings will further illustrate our many successes," she wrote.
On the Florida controversy, the AP has obtained internal HHS documents that show a draft audit could have been completed before Jeb Bush's re-election if the work had started on time. It was first scheduled to begin last April, but Bush's aide called Rehnquist on April 15 to request the delay. Several postponements delayed the start for five months, and the audit still is not complete.
Rehnquist has said her decision to grant the delays "was based on the merits and not motivated by political reasons." A spokesman for the inspector general also argued that the audit would not have been completed by Election Day even if it had begun on time, though some documents suggest otherwise.
Jeb Bush's spokeswoman Jill Bratina on Tuesday repeated previous statements from the governor's office that the delay was requested because a new pension director was assuming office, and Bush wanted him in place before the audit began.
photo credit and caption: Janet Rehnquist, daughter of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is seen in this undated handout photo. Rehnquist said Tuesday, March 4, 2003, that she is leaving her job as the Health and Human Services official who investigates fraud and waste in Medicare and a range of other social programs. Congressional officials are investigating Rehnquist's management decisions as the HHS inspector general, but Bush administration aides said she was not pushed out. Rehnquist wrote President Bush on Tuesday that shewill leave June 1 to spend more time with her teenage daughters and pursue other professional opportunities. (AP Photo/U.S. Health and Human Services Dept., Handout)
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