Career Experts Told To “Get In Line” — Trump Officials Driving Decision Have Anti-science, Anti-evidence Backgrounds
Terminated Program Grants Have Bipartisan Support, Lauded By Medical Professionals For Helping Bring Teen Pregnancy Rates To All-time Low
New Documents Support Lawsuits’ Claim That HHS’ Premature Grant Termination Is Illegal
WASHINGTON, D.C. — New documents obtained by Democracy Forward indicate that a 2017 decision to terminate grants to the highly-effective, evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program was driven by Trump-appointed political aides with strict anti-science, anti-evidence backgrounds who boxed out career agency officials most familiar with the program. During the process, career experts were cut out of the loop, admonished to “get in line,” and told that it was not their place to ask questions about the agency’s use of funds, according to these never-before-seen internal emails and records from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a selection of which can be viewed here.
Recently, HHS produced the first set of records in the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Democracy Forward Foundation v. HHS. The documents further support the claims made in suits filed by Democracy Forward on behalf of TPP Program grantees, challenging the premature and abrupt termination of the grants as violating the Administrative Procedure Act ).
The new documents obtained by Democracy Forward suggest that:
- The termination of TPP Program grants was driven by political appointees with anti-science, anti-evidence backgrounds. HHS political appointees Valerie Huber, Teresa Manning and Steven Valentine — all of whom are opponents of scientific and evidence-based programs — were directly involved in the decision to terminate TPP Program grants. Among his previous work experience, Mr. Valentine lists nine months he spent working as the Interim Legislative Director at the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-choice organization that works to reduce access to contraception nationwide. Ms. Huber is a known opponent of evidence-based, comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention programs.
- Career HHS officials who are experts in adolescent health were cut out of the loop, admonished to “get in line,” and told that it was not their place to ask questions about the agency’s use of funds. Evelyn Kappeler, who serves as the Director of the Office of Adolescent Health (“OAH”) and is a long-time career civil servant who has worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote in a note: “I was frustrated about the time this process is taking and the fact that OAH has not been part of the discussions.” OAH is the office that Congress has charged to administer the TPP Program. At one point, Kappeler was admonished by a senior agency official: “He was angry and stated that I we needed to get in line…” She was further admonished that her questions were “out of bounds.” Similarly, other career staff “expressed concerns about being able to ask questions in this environment and the lack of engagement by policy staff directly with the program office.”
“Trump is letting anti-science political appointees destroy a bipartisan program that medical experts credit with reducing America’s teen pregnancy rate to an all-time low,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “These new documents lend powerful support to the argument that HHS’s abrupt decision to stop funding this program was unlawful.”
In total, nine TPP Program grantees, including local governments, health care, and other non-profit organizations are suing to reinstate their TPP Program funding. The cases filed are King County v. Azar (2:18-cv-00242-JCC) (W.D. Wash); Healthy Teen Network v. HHS (1:18-cv-00468-CCB) (D. Md); Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho et al v. HHS (2:18-cv-00055-TOR) (E.D. Wash.); and Policy and Research, LLC, et al v. HHS (1:18-cv-00346) (D.D.C.).
Each plaintiff provides and/or facilitates the provision of sex education, youth development, abstinence education, and health service-related resources to youth and families.
For more information about the documents, please contact Democracy Forward.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.