HHS and Congressional Requests for Information
The legislative branch of our Federal government has intense interest in the work conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services. Like the public, Members of Congress and their staff frequently direct letters, emails, and phone calls to the Department that require timely and responsive reply.
Responding to Congressional Inquiries: Workflow Practices
The topic areas of interest to Congressional Members are very broad in range as is the nature of the requested action. For example, some requests may be on behalf of a Member’s constituent who is looking for certain types of information or assistance with an issue. In other cases, Members request formal reports, technical documents, budget information, and answers to key questions regarding a particular issue.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation (ASL) coordinates Congressional requests across the Department. Members submitting requests may come directly to ASL or to agency legislative affairs offices. ASL performs many additional functions, including developing responses to requests on behalf of the Secretary and staff offices within the Office of the Secretary. ASL also coordinates testimony, clearance of proposed legislation and responses to inquiries about them.
With regard to formal incoming requests, to coordinate the response to a request from a Member, ASL assigns a lead office/agency and an ASL staff member to coordinate development of the response and clearance of the transmittal to the Member’s office. For these situations, the assignment often requires a “delivery date” for formulating the draft response. In other cases, Members or their staff may make informal inquiries to ASL that may be handled less formally through phone conversations or email.
Proactively, ASL may also contact Members’ offices for those who are very interested in particular topics to inform them of upcoming events, reports, or activities that may be of interest. Throughout the process, ASL and other legislative offices maintain working knowledge of legislative activities of relevance to health and human service activities. ASL and HHS agency legislative offices track pending issues closely on proposed legislation, arrange for responses to requests, support expert testimony, and coordination of clearance for specific issues across the government.
The office consists of six divisions:
Immediate Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation: Serves as principal advisor to the Secretary with respect to all aspects of the Department's legislative agenda and Congressional liaison activities.
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Discretionary Health Programs: Works on the legislative agenda and serves as the lead liaison for discretionary health programs. This portfolio includes health-science-oriented operating divisions of the department including the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and the Surgeon General, among others.
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Mandatory Health Programs: Works on the legislative agenda and serves as the lead liaison for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as the Indian Health Service.
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services: Works on the legislative agenda and serves as the lead liaison for the departments’ human services and aging program divisions.
Congressional Liaison Office: Serves as the lead liaison to Members of Congress by notifying them of departmental activities and initiatives, maintaining the Department's grant notification system and coordinating agency response to congressional inquiries.
Office of Oversight and Investigations: Responsible for all matters related to Congressional oversight and investigations, including those performed by the Government Accountability Office.
The organizational structure chart and staff list for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/asl/divisions/divisions.html#clo
The ASL Congressional Liaison Office (CLO) responds to congressional inquiries about grant awards; notifies congressional offices of grant awards made by the Department; and facilitates technical assistance regarding grants to Members of Congress and their staff.
ASL grant information can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/asl/Grants/grants.html
A complete listing of testimony by the Secretary and other Department officials before the United States Congress.
HHS testimony can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/asl/testify/2010/testimony.html
3.9 – HHS and Information Declassification
In general, most documents held at HHS that have a national security classification were originally classified by another department or agency. Decisions and the process for the declassification of this material rest with their originators.
HHS does have original classification authority and has classified a small number of documents. Declassification of documents, due to time or lack of continuing need for protection, is executed via specific and routine review.
The authority to declassify information rests in the following officials:
- The Secretary with respect to all information over which HHS exercises final classification authority;
- The original classification authority, as designated by the Secretary, a successor of the original classification authority, or a supervisor of either;
- The official of the originating agency who authorized the original classification;
- The Director, Office of Security and Strategic Information (OSSI), with respect to all classified documents originated by a HHS-predecessor agency and being retained for some official reason, following the coordination with the HHS operating division or staff division that has subject matter interest in the documents.
When there is some doubt concerning the classification of a document, the information must be transmitted for review to the Director, OSSI, for review and to an agency with proper subject matter interest and original classification authority -- at which point that the agency will decide to declassify, or extend the initial classification level.
All classified documents in the possession or control of an organization are subject to an annual review conducted by the Classification Security Officer (CSO) of the organization. This review is conducted to identify documents that require declassification or destruction and must be accomplished prior to the HHS Annual Status Report on Classified National Security Information.
All classified documents will have a maximum classification life of 25 years from the date of its original classification, unless the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office within the National Archives and Records Administration has determined that the document may be exempt from automatic declassification.
Mandatory Review Requests for Declassification
Anyone may request a review for declassification of information. These requests are submitted to the Director, OSSI, as either a mandatory review request or under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) review process.
If the request is approved, the Director, OSSI, must then declassify all HHS-originating information by marking it to reflect the change, authority for and date of declassification. If the requested information cannot be declassified in its entirety, declassified portions that constitute a coherent segment are released, and if the information cannot be released in whole or in part, the action office must provide the reasons for denial. In cases where declassification is denied, in whole or in part, the Director, OSSI, in coordination with the HHS Freedom of Information Act office, must notify the requestor of the final determination and reasons for denial, as well as the right to appeal within 60 working days of the receipt of the denial.
HHS may also require a fee for declassification review requests, which may be appealed if the requested information is not declassified and released in whole.