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Senators revisit lowering contractor compensation costs

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Two senators are making another push to lower how much the government reimburses for contractor compensation costs with a bill introduced late Thursday.

Senate bill 2198, sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, would limit the taxpayer reimbursement for government contractor compensation to the amount of the President’s salary – $400,000. Compensation includes wages, salary, bonuses and deferred compensation. The measure would extend the cap to all government contractor employees.

“The direct taxpayer-funded salaries of government contractors clearly need to be contained,” Sen. Grassley said in a statement. “There’s no justification for these payments to be higher than the salary of the President of the United States.”

Contractors can currently charge agencies up to $693,951 for the compensation of their top five employees, based on a federal executive compensation benchmark. Contractors outside of the top five can earn and be reimbursed for more than that. The cost of reimbursing those salaries shows up in the overhead rates companies charge on contracts.

President Obama asked Congress last year to scrap the formula that sets the reimbursement cap and instead tie it to what the government pays its own top executives, about $200,000. Boxer and Grassley attempted to lower the cap within the National Defense Authorization Act in December but were unsuccessful. The 2012 NDAA that passed extends the current $693,951 salary cap to all defense contractor employees, not just the top five.

Lesley Field, acting administrator of OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy, asked Congress in January to take up the proposal again, calling the amount contractors can charge the government for their executives’ compensation “unjustified and unnecessary.”

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Medical malpractice records restored to public, with reporting rules

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The federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has reopened public access to information on malpractice settlements and discipline taken against poor  performing doctors.

But under its new data use agreement, publicly available information from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) cannot be reposted or used in combination with other information to identify a doctor.

HRSA took down its online public file of the NPDB Sept. 1, after a Kansas City Star reporter used the information to track down the identity of a doctor who had a long record of malpractice cases against him but was never disciplined by the state.

Now, if HRSA learns that data has been used to identify a doctor, it will ask that the data be returned, HRSA Administrator Mary Wakefield said in a statement.

The information can be used in statistical analysis and reporting, Wakefield said, such as “an article that talks about trends in malpractice or disciplinary actions that includes unidentified data to support the conclusions.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley,  ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pushed HRSA to restore public access since the database was taken down. He previously asked Wakefield to explain her agency’s response to the Kansas City Star reporter, submit all communication between HRSA officials and the doctor that was identified in the story, and outline what steps they are taking to restore public access to the data bank.

HRSA’s new restrictions on the use of public information within the NPDB is “overreaching” and “restricts the use of the information much more than the law specifies,” Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a news release.

“This agency needs to remember that half of all health care dollars in the United States comes from taxpayers, so the interpretation of the law ought to be for public benefit,” he said. “One complaint shouldn’t dictate public access to federally collected data for 300 million people.” 

It’s also unclear how HRSA would monitor and take back misused data, Grassley said.  He said he is seeking legal opinions on HRSA’s interpretation of the law.

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