Is Gruber the Armstrong Williams of the Obama administration?

When it turned out that Armstrong Williams took money from the Bush administration to espouse its education policies in his columns, a torrent of condemnations resulted for his failure to disclose his financial relationship with the White House.  That scorn came from both Left and Right, including myself, and I made the point that government-paid shills hiding in the media amounted to a propaganda campaign that Americans should never tolerate.

But what if the propaganda artist didn’t just hide in the media, but also in government statements supporting its policies?  Last night Allahpundit noted that MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber made media rounds to espouse ObamaCare without ever mentioning to reporters that he was getting a cool $300K from the administration for the kind of work normally done by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) .  As it turns out, the OMB didn’t see him much as a competitor, as Megan McArdle reports at The Atlantic.  They posted his supportive quotes without any indication that Gruber was a paid consultant, instead casting his statements as independent analysis:

The standard is even higher for people who are taking public funds, and not only Professor Gruber, but the administration had a responsibility to disclose the relationship.  Yet a post on the OMB blog signed by Peter Orszag cited Brownstein’s Gruber quotes without mentioning the relationship.

Not only did Orszag tout Gruber on his blog, but he also touted Gruber to other reporters while scolding them for their skepticism over ObamaCare.  The Hill reported this six weeks ago, when Orszag griped about “loosey-goosey” criticism of the Senate’s bill just before Thanksgiving:

“The folks who have done that kind of reporting come to a much different conclusion instead of a kind of ‘loosey goosey, let’s talk about things in the air instead of what’s in the legislation,'” Orszag said. …

Orszag’s push back against the GOP attacks came ahead of next week’s Senate debate on the healthcare bill.

Orszag touted the praise for the bill from health economists in academia, a former Congressional Budget Office director and economists who worked in President George W. Bush’s administration. The health experts were all cited in recent stories by The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein and the Times’ David Leonhardt.

In Brownstein’s story, Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he had been a skeptic of past health reform bills but that he found the latest Senate legislation to be the “best effort anyone has ever made” at reining in costs.

And speaking of Orszag, did anyone notice that Gruber’s CV shows four separate papers the two have written together?  Could that be the reason why Gruber won this consulting contract with HHS, which duplicates work that taxpayers already fund by the CMS, on a no-bid contract?  The rationale from HHS is:

Dr. Gruber is uniquely positioned to provide the analytic work ASPE requires based on over 15 years of experience in health care and health policy. Dr. Gruber is a recognized expert in health policy in economics including being widely published in peer-reviewed academic and health policy literature on the effects of changes in health benefit designs on the cost of enrollment in health insurance. Moreover, in order to estimate the impacts, Dr. Gruber developed a proprietary statistically sophisticated micro-simulation model that has the flexibility to ascertain the distribution of changes in health care spending and public and private sector health care costs due to a large variety of changes in health insurance benefit design, public program eligibility criteria, and tax policy. This model has been used for other health reform proposal. Finally, Dr. Gruber’s ongoing work with ASPE, using these proprietary models to help inform the Office of Health Reform, strongly positions him to meet HHS’ requirements the most efficiently, which is a key requirement in order for well-developed legislative proposals to be put forth for Congressional consideration as soon as possible.

Apparently, no other economist in the US has ever studied health-care costs in depth, according to HHS.  Or, perhaps as likely, Orszag arranged a $300K no-bid contract for a buddy, then hid the relationship in order to promote him as an independent voice that just so happened to support administration policy.

Heads should roll for this, and Orszag’s should be the first, and that’s not just because he’s managed to screw up for the entire year.  This is not incompetence — it’s corruption.

Update: That wasn’t Gruber’s only federal contract, either.  Gruber had a $284,000 project with NIH to study Medicare Part D, a follow-on from a 2008 contract on the same topic.

Update II: The work done by Gruber is normally done by CMS, not OMB; I’ve corrected it above.  It’s worth noting that CMS had a different opinion about ObamaCare than Gruber did.

Update III: Tom Maguire looks at faux disclosure at the New York Times.

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