The new assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wants to improve the agency’s outreach to regional reporters and plans to hire a liaison devoted to working with journalists outside the Beltway.
Judy Stecker, appointed to the role in April, mentioned the new emphasis on reaching regional reporters in a phone call last week with the chairs of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee.
Stecker also said that she is working on establishing regular opportunities for D.C.-based reporters to meet with HHS Secretary Alex Azar and other department leaders, and plans to make pen-and-pad meetings and other press briefings with journalists more frequent.
The phone call – with Stecker; deputy assistant secretary for public affairs Mark Weber; and Felice Freyer and myself, chair and vice chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee – was the first of what we hope will be quarterly phone calls with HHS media officials.
In the past, these conversations have made HHS aware of the difficulties reporters encounter getting information and have led to improvements.
“As someone who has always worked for regional outlets, I’m happy to learn that HHS is looking at making it easier for reporters across the country to access federal resources,” Freyer said. “We’re also grateful to Judy Stecker for resuming these valuable conversations with the Right to Know Committee and we look forward to talking with her again in three months.”
Weber said that HHS is actively interviewing candidates for a regional strategist position, a role that will focus on helping local reporters get information from the federal government that is relevant to their areas. It’s a position that has been vacant “for some time,” he said.
The agency has already been holding “pen and pad” meetings and roundtables to give D.C.-based reporters opportunities to speak with Azar and Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Right to Know Committee members and leaders of AHCJ’s Washington, D.C., chapter made arrangements to record the CMS briefings and post them on healthjournalism.org.
Stecker says she intends to keep up the momentum and aims to schedule the events at least once a month. A date for June has not yet been set.