Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter this week to the acting head of the Department of Health and Human Services demanding answers on its continued support for evidence-based policy.
Murray is a strong evidence proponent and well placed to put pressure on HHS. She is the leading Democrat on both the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the appropriations subcommittee that oversees HHS’s annual budget.
She has used those positions to insert evidence provisions into a variety of laws and appropriations bills over the past few years. She was also House Speaker Paul Ryan’s leading Democratic cosponsor on the bipartisan legislation that created the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking.
In her January 16 letter to HHS, Murray cited SAMHSA’s recent decision to freeze its evidence clearinghouse, the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), and the CDC’s reported ban on certain words, including the term “evidence-based,” in its budget.
She also cited concerns with recent developments for evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs. According to her letter:
HHS staff has stated they are “hopeful that Congress will eliminate the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program,” and HHS has recently invested new money in “sexual risk avoidance programs.” These continued actions and statements make clear the Department does not value the work of this high quality evidence-based program that aims to assess the needs of diverse communities and populations.
Murray concluded her letter by asking for a response from HHS by January 31 that answered her questions about NREPP, the CDC, and the teen pregnancy program. She also asked HHS to describe plans for any new evidence-based policies, programs, or registries.
It is unclear how, or whether, HHS will respond, but Murray’s position as the leading Democrat overseeing its annual budget gives her enormous influence.