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Firm Running Coronavirus Database Refuses to Answer Senators’ Questions

2020-08-14 23:54:40

The letter made public on Friday was in response to an inquiry from Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health Committee. They wrote the company on July 22, seeking information about its arrangement with the Health and Human Services Department — “a sudden and significant departure,” they wrote, “from the way the federal government has collected public health data regarding infectious diseases in the past.”

The Washington lawyer A. Scott Bolden replied on behalf of Michael Zamagias, a Pittsburgh real estate developer who is TeleTracking’s chairman and majority owner. Mr. Bolden suggested the Democrats direct questions about the contract to the government, and a health department spokeswoman said Friday that is what members of Congress should do.

But Ms. Murray sent a similar letter to the health and human services agency on June 3, not quite two months after the contract was first awarded, and has received no response, her office said. At the time, hospitals had the option of reporting either to TeleTracking or the C.D.C., and Ms. Murray’s letter asked why the government was creating “a seemingly duplicative data collection system.”

Senators Schumer and Murray have been pushing the government to be more transparent about its collection and use of coronavirus data. The two recently introduced legislation aimed at protecting data transparency, and Mr. Schumer has raised the issue with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to a person familiar with their discussion.

“The Trump administration’s decision to hire a private vendor and then cloak that vendor in a nondisclosure agreement raises numerous questions about their motivations and risks the ability of our public health experts to understand and effectively fight this virus,” Mr. Schumer said Friday in a statement.

The manner in which the contract was awarded has also generated confusion. A government website initially listed it as a “sole source” contract, but health department officials later said there were six bidders, though they would not name the others, saying they were “prohibited from sharing that information by federal regulations and statutes.”

Ms. Tillipman said keeping the names of bidders a secret is also unusual.


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