Seema Verma, who runs the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in the Trump administration, spent more than $3.5 million in public funds on outside consultants who worked to “boost her public profile and promote her personal brand,” according to a congressional investigative report released Thursday.
Investigators found that in her first two years in office Verma used CMS funds to retain consultants “with strong ties to Republican political circles” who arranged media appearances, handled communications and scheduled private meetings, including a “Girl’s Night” party at the house of USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page that cost taxpayers nearly $3,000.
The consultants charged up to $380 an hour for their public relations work, and some claimed travel expenses of more than $500 per day, far above the limits set for federal employees. Other eyebrow-raising spending cited by investigators includes $1,700 for arranging lunches for Verma with individuals associated with Fox News, the Washington Examiner and AARP; $977 to place an op-ed written by Verma on Fox News; and $13,000 to place Verma on panels and contend for awards like Washingtonian magazine's "Most Powerful Women in Washington.”
A group of Democratic lawmakers released a statement Thursday calling on Verma to pay the money back. “Our investigation found that Administrator Verma misused funds appropriated by Congress and wasted taxpayer dollars intended to support critical federal health care programs,” they said. “Congress did not intend for taxpayer dollars to be spent on handpicked communications consultants used to promote Administrator Verma’s public profile and personal brand. Administrator Verma has shown reckless disregard for the public’s trust. We believe she should personally reimburse the taxpayers for these inappropriate expenditures.”
This is not the first time critics have raised questions about Verma’s use of taxpayer funds. Last year, Politico reported that Verma had filed a request to be reimbursed at public expense for the loss of items stolen from her luggage during a work-related trip. The value of the stolen items totaled $47,000 and included Ivanka Trump-branded jewelry worth nearly $6,000.
Get more details on the Verma investigation at Politico.