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AHCJ, HHS officials address appeal process for inadequate responses by PIOs

Reporters facing unreasonable delays or inadequate responses from media officials at an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can bring their complaints to one of three deputy assistant secretaries for public affairs.

In a phone conference on May 28, 2014, between three top HHS media officers and AHCJ board members, these officials were named as contacts for reporters having difficulties. Their names and the agencies whose media offices they oversee are listed below.

The phone conference was one in a regular series in which leaders of AHCJ’s Right to Know (RTK) Committee work with the HHS public affairs office to improve government transparency and access to information and experts.

Representing AHCJ were board President Karl Stark, RTK Chair Irene M. Wielawski and RTK Vice Chair Felice J. Freyer. They spoke with Dori Salcido, assistant secretary for public affairs, News Division Director Bill Hall, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Mark Weber.

Earlier this month, Freyer asked AHCJ members to relay their experiences — positive and negative — with media offices at HHS agencies.

Some members complained of media officials who answer questions only by email and “on background,” even for straightforward facts; incomplete, unclear or “scripted” responses; and difficulty in setting up interviews with experts. Others gave positive accounts, saying they received rapid and thorough responses.

The HHS media policy urges prompt responses, respect for deadlines and access to experts. It states: “In general, reporters, including bloggers, should have access to HHS employees they seek to interview.”

After previous phone conferences, Salcido and her staff have followed up on individual complaints from AHCJ members. In the conference call, Wielawski pressed for a more real-time solution because HHS’s follow up has usually come too late for reporters’ deadlines.

Below are the names of the deputies, their contact information and the agencies, programs and issues each supervises. Hall, the HHS news division director, suggested that journalists copy him on all appeals.

News Division Director
Bill Hall, 202-690-6344

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA) for Health Care
Jason Young, 202-690-5852
Agencies:  Affordable Care Act (ACA), Office of Human Resources (OHR), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Indian Health Service (IHS), Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Issues: Oversight and Outreach

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA) for Public Health
Tait Sye, 202-205-1841
Agencies:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of Assistant Secretary of Health (OASH), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), Office of Global Affairs (OGA)
Issues:  Tobacco, Obesity, Let’s Move, Alzheimer's, HIV/AIDS, Specialty/ Minority Outreach (incl. Faith-Based), Sustainability

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA) for Human Services
Mark Weber, 202-260-6412
Agencies:  Administration for Community Living (ACL), including Administration on Aging and Office on Disability (AoA/OD), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), and Departmental Appeals Board (DAB).
Issues:  Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Head Start, child care, fatherhood, studio, publication planning and clearance