Investigators found one possible case of misuse of grant funds when they looked into allegations of overcharging.

Most organizations get grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lobby, but HHS has no good way to find out if the grantees are violating bans on use of HHS grant money in lobbying. Officials at the HHS Office of Inspector General have published that conclusion in a report on compliance with HHS grant program lobbying rules

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and older federal laws prohibit recipients of HHS grants from spending the grant money on lobbying. In 2009, HHS tore into commercial insurers when insurers tried to share their views about health reform legislation with Medicare Advantage plan enrollees. 

See also: PPACA: The lobbying horse race

HHS inspector general’s office investigators studied lobbying rule compliance efforts by looking at 13 HHS grantmaking agencies for federal fiscal years 2011 and 2012. The investigators also conducted a survey of the organizations that received the grant money.

All of the grantees said they knew about the ban on use of the grant money for lobbying.

  • 5.1 percent of the grantees said they comply with the rules by not engaging in lobbying activities.
  • 66 percent of the grantees said they comply with the rules by reviewing expenditures or conducting internal audits.
  • 55 percent of the grantees said they use internal policy to keep from using grant funds for prohibited activities.

The investigators said they learned about two cases of possible use of HHS grant money for lobbying.

In one case, a project officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention heard about a grantee that was involved with a press event for a local smoke-free ordinance, investigators say.

In another case, the Health Resources and Services Administration was looking into allegations that a grantee had overcharged it for personnel and other items. While looking at that grantee’s spending, agency staffers found that the grantee had paid for dinner and drinks for several legislative staffers during a trip to Washington.