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Sr. Walsh soldiers on...

Previous posts at dotCommonweal on the HHS decision to change agencies helping the victims of human trafficking showed the usual Catholic fractiousness, but seemed to overlook the due process issues involved.Sr. Mary Anne Walsh, USCCB spokesperson has tracked down some more information. "I have been informed that six organizations applied for anti-trafficking grants from HHSs Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Four scored so low they did not make the cutoff when evaluated by an independent review board. Two applicants scored well. Heartland Human Care Services scored highest and MRS came in second, very close to Heartland, even after losing points for not being willing to refer for contraceptives and abortions. Yet, after finagling by Sharon Parrott, one of three politically-appointed counselors to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, ORR awarded $4.5 million, spread across Heartland, which earned the award, and United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and Tapestri, groups that hadnt made the grade according to the independent review board."HHS denies any hanky-panky. Show me the data."

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Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Hi, Margaret, the article provides some additional details, but doesn't really advance the story much, from what I can tell. Do you agree? What do you think is really going on here? Are the bishops doing the right thing by continuing to press this issue?

Maybe I'm not understanding the problem. It seems the Catholic agency is being turned down not because what they offer is sub-standard but because it is incomplete. Contraception information is a necessary part of health care for women, especially women who have been the victims of human trafficking. Why would the government opt to choose an agency that doesn't offer this? Unless I'm mistaken, it's not as if the agency is required to give out contraceptives or do abortions, they are asked to inform/refer.

Jim P: Who knows what the bishops are doing! I think Sister Walsh is saying that MRS lost the grant because a political appointee at HHS intervened in a process ruled by a review committee that found MRS a good choice for the grant despite its position on contraception and abortion.She does all of us a favor by pursuing an effort to find out the facts, even if the grant is gone forever. Whatever our views on reproductive rights, we should care that the people MRS has been assisting continue to get services equal to or better than MRSs.

Are there any independent studies showing the effectiveness of MRS? That would help. As far as I know government awards are always political. Rarely are they not. So what is the surprise. As I wrote before, if you send letters to your pulpit every election day to vote for the other party what do you expect. Whatever one's views about grants it is a legitimate question as to how much the RCC in the US is political in its pulpit.

I agree that MRS has to push hard here, even if it's a lost cause. Politicians get away with this stuff only because it never makes the headlines. Journalists are used to it - it seems normal to them and thus not news. It's also necessary to let the politicians know that there will be a steep price to pay - a bright spotlight on their back-room deals, which work well only in the dark.

It is always amazing to me that Catholics cannot sort through our own views and opinions to see some of the other and perhaps bigger issues at stake in these discussions. Of course, that applies to the bishops as well.Good institutions doing good work are being squeezed out of the public square because they are caught between the bishops and their ideology and the pro-choice and pro-gay world and their ideology. The price is being paid by those who need the services of good institutions.

The Walsh "Memo to HHS" strikes me as juvenile. If you are serious about doing business involving competitive legal contracting and funding, you should sound as if you mean business, which would suggest leaving out the wisecracks, insults, and flipness for a start. Her apparent surprise that counselors and senior policy advisors would counsel and advise, given the size of the Secretary's Department, is surprising, especially in view of the fact that MRS had prior experience with HHS. Similarly, her dismay at ORR favoring proposals it had said it would favor is puzzling. She poses questions about how men and women involved in trafficking think about sex but, having no data, offers no answers. The best thing the USCCB could do would be to have this "Memo" disappear ASAP in case they might care to bid again someday.

A post by Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, a professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary ... What about the women? Sex trafficking victims need comprehensive health services ... makes the point that I tried to make above, which is that this isn't about anti-Catholicism, it's about helping the victims.

I think there are many, many things going on at one time, and it's way too simplistic (and sounding like a political jab) to say it is all about the Obama Administration trying to "get back" at the USCCB, especially as others have pointed out, the USCCB have received increases in funding in other programs.First, let me agree with the desire for the program to continue to get funding. Second, let's look at the real world; many good programs, in all administrations, lose funding from the government -- often not because of any "punishment" but just as a way of life; sometimes administrations like to move things around to give many people the opportunity to get funding (sort of like how colleges might reward a student a scholarship one year, but not the next). Sometimes they want to look like they are not playing favorites (something I think Sister Walsh ignores). Sometimes, budgeting is on the decline, and again, they need to try to encourage as many entities as possible (and the USCCB looks stable, while others could be lifted up). Nonetheless, the constant call of religious persecution when the USCCB doesn't get funding for a specific program, and the name-calling is not going to fix the situation, but make things worse; you are likely to create the atmosphere which you decry if it is not there. I wonder if this is not exactly what _some_ at the USCCB (from the "pro-life" wing) want -- since that wing seems to be leading the USCCB for quite some time, often with shoddy claims (health care reform and abortion funding, etc). It does look like some in the USCCB are going with the politics and the rest are clueless at how they are being used.

It seems to me that Crystal has a good point. Anybody have an answer for her precise points--that will be persuasive to those who don't think contraception is always immoral?My worry about this whole debate is that those claiming the exemption don't seem to recognize that their are consciences on both sides of the debate. Try looking at it from the perspective of the decision-makers. What should one do if one conscientiously believes that women have a right to contraception --especially if they are at risk of sexual assault (remember the Belgian nuns in the Congo)-- and a service organization not only won't provide the service, but won't refer for that service?The underlying problem facing the church is that common morality is diverging from Church teaching on key issues. It is a conflict of moral claims. And it's not merely attributable to political correctness. From the perspective of the non-Catholics who think contraception and abortion are licit services, they may well ask why their tax money is going to service providers who aren't going to give these vulnerable women everything they need. What's the answer to their moral question?

Cathleen, you stated much better the points I tried to make in the earlier thread. These contracts are not awarded for the purpose of giving the Church a chance to show its social justice mettle. It is not anti-Catholic to want to ensure the provision of comprehensive services to women who are, after all, the purpose for which this funding is being made in the first place. Contraception and abortion are legal, and these women in particular are highly vulnerable to coerced sexual activity, even when they are not in the sex trade. Domestic servants are often sexually exploited by male members of the families they work for (for instance, teen aged sons) and the trafficking ringleaders. To say, as someone did, on the other thread that he is sure that these women's dignity can be respected without providing them with those services is just beside the point. An overarching principle in assisting trafficking victims is to allow -- and sometimes force -- these women to start makign decisions on their own behalf, to control their own destiny, their own physical person, for one thing, so they are not re-trafficked. Thus, it is very important that they ultimately be the decision makers in whether they get a referral for contraceptive or abortion or any other services. I work with trafficking victims, I should say, and being refused a referral on ideological grounds is just inconsistent with these principles. It subjugages the woman's decision about her own body to the beliefs of others -- even if those beliefs are conscientious and not explicitly intended to harm her. There is also the prospect that the Church's prior performance was "rated up" by a board that had become used to working with certain organizations. I still don't understand why the USCCB didn't contest the award if it thought it was so deficient on the merits.

CK: A thorough moral calculus on this depends on fact that we do not have and/or on facts that will become apparent only in the future. The framework for this calculus would be the total "good," i.e., services provided for all the victims able to reach MRS (or that MRS is able to reach), including women, men, and children. That "good" should be measured against the "good" of providing contraceptives and/or abortions to the women who want them. The HHS review committee seems to have concluded that except for contraception and abortion, MRS supplied the "good" that was needed. The unknown future facts: Will the alternate agencies not only supply contraceptive and abortions services but the other "goods" required by the victims, which include men and children as well as women?Also unknown is the degree to which MRS professionals, in fact, ensure contraceptive and/or abortion services to women who need them, but, of course, do not advertise that; or as Crystal Watson suggests refer women for those services.

Barbara: Another thing I don't know is where these services are deployed; I have the impression some of this occurs outside the U.S., in which case, abortion is not always legal. How do U.S. funded services cope with that?You use the expression "force" women to take responsibility; I am going to assume you mean by verbal persuasion of a gentle sort. Otherwise how are these services any different than the operations from which the victims have fled or been rescued?

Peggy, I think it is important to remember that what is at stake is NOT the PROVISION Of these services, but rather referral for them. NO one is asking the bishops' conference to provide these services, as I understand it--they are being asked to tell them where they can obtain them. Now, as to the RFP: Consider this analogy.Suppose I want to have a party Friday night. The best caterer in town is run by an orthodox Jewish firm, that refuses to cater on Friday nights. It seems to me I have two choices: I can give my guests the best food, or I can have the party when I want to. IF I decide to have the party on Friday, and go with the second best caterer, that is not discrimination against the Orthodox Jews. If HHS really believes that referral for these services is an essential part of the services they want available to victims of sex trafficking, then it is not discrimination not to contract with someone who won't provide the full range of services.The question in this case, of course, is whether it is reasonable to place REFERRALs for contraception and abortion as essential criteria, rather than merely including them among the factors that are balanced in evaluating competing service providers. I suspect there's a moral issue lurking here--not about the provision of services, but about the referrals. A government contractor not providing services to which it morally objects is one thing. But not referring for services which are not only legal but constitutionally protected is something on a different level--especially when you have a population which probably doesn't know how to get those services otherwise.(I am assuming that the US government is not requiring its contractors to refer for services in countries in which those services are illegal-that would create an international incident, I think!)I don't think the moral calculus is necessarily a total cost/benefit analysis. There are principles involved too. Suppose you have a fabulous service provider, that takes care of 98 percent of the population better than anyone else. But it refuses to take care of the mentally ill, because it believes they are cursed by God. I'm not going to go with them as a government provider, because their fundamental principles are inconsistent with my purposes. Suppose you have a provider that believes that pain medication in childbirth is prohibited by God. I'm not going to with them either --even if they're the best provider overall.So my sense is that it's not the provision of services that's the moral deal breaker, but the refusal to refer for constitutionally protected services. And unless we grapple seriously with the conflicting moral principles--conflicting consciences, not merely OUR consciences, we're not going to get beyond a shouting match.

The point is to make it as clear as possible that women should be the ones making important decisions in their life -- whether they stay in the U.S. or go back home and so on -- many are so used to being out of control that they will defer to what the "service providers" signal as what they should be doing. As a service provider you have to be vigilant about this.

You can come up with all kinds of outlandish examples -- a fabulous emergency service provider that is run by the Jehovah's Witnesses that won't provide emergency blood transfusions. Blood transfusions are against their faith, but most of us would be outraged at being put in harm's way if our local municipality decided to contract with an entity to provide emergency room services at a public hospital if it refused to provide blood transfusions because it violated their conscience. Jehovah's Witness is marginal, an outlier in the public perception of religious organizations -- but the Catholic Church's opposition to contraception, at least, is just as much of a marginal and outlier position. How far is one entitled to go in asserting the primacy of conscience in refusing to provide services that are legal and legitimately the subject of a public contract before the government can be seen to be acquiescing in, if not actually imposing, the provider's moral point of view on those who are supposed to be receiving services under the contract?

Another thing I find wrong with Sister Walsh's argument: she is making the assertion, and demanding proof of a negative. That really works well with conspiracy theorists; no matter what you show as a negative, there is always a way to read it as a part of a greater conspiracy. The way is not to demand proof of the negative, but to show evidence of the actual deed. The "they didn't give it to us this time" is not proof of a conspiracy or an attack on the Church, and as such, more needs to be proven in order to make a case.

As far as I can tell from the original Washington Post story the USCCB worked with a variety of subcontractors providing services to victims of human trafficking, and that subcontractors were allowed to arrange these services, though the USCCB would not reimburse with federal dollars. It appears from the National Review story that some of the subcontractors shared the USCCB's views on abortion. There may be rights protected under the constitution for individuals to use contraception and to have abortions. Those rights do not extend to payment for contraception and abortion. Payment for contraception is probably legislated in a number of states and for a number of federal programs, but that doesn't extend to abortions.So back to Square One: Wasn't the decision of the HHS Counselors (who are political appointees) an exclusion of the better service provider for ones rated lower by the review committee? That exclusion was based not on lack of merit, but on the decision to have agencies that might excel at providing contraception and abortions, but be lackluster on the rest of the package. In any case, how do abortions get paid for in this arrangement, if federal funds are barred from paying for abortions?

Here are the links:Washington Post: here's the National Review: also note that the Washington Post story must flow from the internal dissension at HHS over the decision.

If we grant that there is dissension at HHS(at least for the sake of argument) and if we grant that high marks went to Church service providers, does that still answer Barbara's question about contract referals?And, does it answer the major issue of services to those caught up in trafficking?Is contraception as a service vital to many????Unfortunately, i don't find clear naswers to those questions here yet.

1. A foolproof way to discourage programs for refugees - - require all subcontractors to be open to the full panoply of "reproductive rights."2 . A foolproof way to put USCCB groups out of business - - for bids on all relevant contracts currently held by Catholic groups allow HHS to privilege bids from groups providing full "reproductive rights" even if these groups are otherwise rated as substandard.3. A foolproof way to pit traditional religious groups against the welfare state - - pursue #1 and #2 with full vigor as a matter of principle.After following these three simple stepsprepare for Congressional hearings, campaign debates and very likely a reversion to the previous policy following a Republican victory. Then denounce the Bishops as cretins and bigots. Ignore collateral damage to refugees.

Sorry Bob, don't quite get the questions about contract referrals.On the contraception issue: I think the bishops are foolish, sadly so, to raise it to an invariable principle in the public square. On the abortion issue, they have solid principle on their side.

That's what I'm trying to say. It's referrals--not actual provision of services at issue!

But according to the WashPost referrals are provided by the sub-contractors.

Margaret, we can argue principles in general but the WaPo is just not specifc or authoritative enough to provide factual answers to real questions that are being raised here. It is entirely possible that the board wanted the contract to go to a vendor that it liked and had forged personal relationships with -- this happens in federal agencies. There is a process for challenging an award on the merits but the USCCB does not seem to have done that, and is pleading its case through news organizations. We keep ping ponging between the principles and the facts as if the latter are clear, and thus inform the former -- bu they are not clear and what is being reported to the press might itself be highly biased.

Much of what seems to be attributed explicitly and implicitly to the "independent" "review" board is puzzling to me based on some experience on similar boards for another large department. Barbara is right, repeatedly, on the need to describe what the process under discussion actually has been if one hopes to understand it. A clarifying definition would show the actual purpose, scope, functions, products, reporting, and, especially, financial and contracting legal authority of the HHS board receiving so much attention. And, finding advisors between a board and final decision authority should be viewed as desirable, not malfeasance. The underlying premise is that nobody knows everything, but smart ones can learn. Henry Karlson usefully noted a few of the factors that may affect contracting and funding authorities after a review board does its work and before final decisions on contracts and funding are signed. See his "Second, lets look at the real world; ." (11/08/2011 - 5:38 am). In addition, roles and priorities in Congress matter since that is where the funds and laws originate. And that is why Bishop Lori and others are testifying to Sub-Committees on grave threats emerged since June. USCCB members are hardly merely charitable workers seeking support in DC for obviously praiseworthy projects. An example of their activity was offered by Richard Doerflinger, USCCB pro-life lobbyist, about USCCB activities: " during health care reform debate; Doerflinger said they actually helped Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) write the controversial anti-abortion amendment,". If bishops are going to do what other lobbyists and legislative encouragers do in the back room, they can expect to face the same questions and suspicions the others get about money, back-scratching, and vote bargaining. Sr. Walsh's Memo is embedded in a context worth recognizing.

Why hasn't the USCCB appealed the decision? Good question! I am going to put on my girl reporter's glasses and see if I can find out.In the meantime, I am a bit disappointed that we are bailing on the issue because the WashPost is only a newspaper and not a semester course in federal grants.

IMHO this controversy illustrates the contradiction implicit in contracting with faith-based organizations to carry out government (secular) services. Ultimately the government, in giving some grants and denying others, will be criticized for engaging in either religious favoritism and/or discrimination. On the other hand, faith based agencies will be forced to engage in the messy business of lobbying and they will surely have to compromise some of their preferred social service procedures in order to qualify for government grants.The USCCB, as witnessed by the substantial level of government funding for Catholic Relief Services and diocesan Catholic Social Services, has been very successful in its lobbying efforts. As professional lobbyists, they surely know these prudential norms: (a) because you fail to win a contract, dont publically discredit the grant-awarding process unless you dont intend to seek future grants; and (b) dont pass on to the media the statements of anonymous bureaucrats who are critical of the agencys decision unless you want to be seen as an untrustworthy provocateur. So why does the USCCB continue to add fuel to this controversy?(a) The Bishops see themselves as morally inspired whistle-blowers with the obligation, regardless of the consequences, to expose the politics of the HHS staff. (b) The Bishops expect the resulting political uproar to compel HHS to be more accommodating in the future. (c) The Bishops are willing to sacrifice temporary lobbying access in order to substantiate their claim that secularists (many of whom serve in the Obama Administration) are determined to destroy the religious liberty of the American Catholic Church. (d) Or all of the above?

"Contraception information is a necessary part of health care for women, especially women who have been the victims of human trafficking. Why would the government opt to choose an agency that doesnt offer this?"Without getting into the question of contraception, it seems that HHS had a choice in awarding this bid: they could award the bid to:o agencies that can help victims of human trafficking (which seems to be the point of the bid) in a myriad of ways, but don't directly provide access to contraception and abortion; oro agencies that do directly provide access to contraception and abortion, but *aren't qualified to help victims of human trafficking* - aren't even staffed up to meet the requirements of the contract.If the choice was between two agencies who are equally adept at helping victims, where one provides those contraceptive/abortion services and the other doesn't, the HHS selection decision would be legally, politically and maybe even philosophically defensible (albeit not to my personal taste). But that wasn't the choice. The choice was to choose competence + no direct reproductive services; or reproductive services + incompetence. HHS chose the latter. HHS prefers ideology to helping victims. Did I mention that Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, is ultimately responsible for this unconscionable decision?

JimDo you have proof that those who got funding are incompetent?

HHS denies any hanky-panky. Show me the data.The government doesn't just give you your competitor's data because you have asked for it. Sr. Walsh must realize, of course, that HHS actually has a system of records that tells them when to show what data to whom and that it could get sued for giving the wrong data to the wrong party. It's ironic that the USCCB could be in such a lather about the irregular process used to award the contract (allegedly) and yet working so hard to avoid or evade the rather obvious process that does exist to correct the alleged wrongdoing. I really and truly don't understand and it makes me suspicious.

Henry, I am running with the claims of incompetence that Sr. Walsh has presented.

Years of daily WashPo reading suggest a few observations on the Markon WP story of Oct 31, 2011 to which Margaret links (I bypass the 2084 comments for now.) - From a Governrnent agency with over 60,000 employees, Markon writes of uncounted, nameless "senior political appointees", "career staffers", "federal officials", "career officials", "HHS officials", "some HHS staffers", and finds one quotable respondent. The streets and bars of DC overflow with anonymous authoritative speakers on any subject. It's worth waiting for some information attributable to named, knowledgable sources who will own up publicly to verifiable information. - He writes of "some Catholics" with no indication of whether that is 1000 in and near the USCCB or most of the 70 million over whom Abp. Dolan claims episcopal shepherdship. Most notably in light of the key part played by the subject of contraception, he omits any mention of what most American Catholics believe, which is in striking, well-known contrast to the bishops' teachings on the subject. - An inevitable consequence of competitive federal procurement is disgruntled losers. The quotable USCCB Director of Media Relations is presumably supporting the organization's legal strategy, said to be kicking off with an FOIA request. Barbara's comment (10:02am) applies as do the questions from j p farry (11/08 9:22pm).

Back from my investigations. This: MRS is studying its options. It is unclear whether an appeal can be made in this case. (Don't know why or why not)Henry Karlson/ Jim Pauwels: Perhaps incompetence is the wrong word. Perhaps "not as good as" MRS in providing services would be a fairer reading of the review committee's findings--at least according to the Wash Post story.Jack Berry: "Its worth waiting for some information attributable to named, knowledgable sources who will own up publicly to verifiable information." We are all newspaper readers (or I certainly hope so), and we all know that anonymous source(s), for better and worse, are prime sources for journalists. I have assumed in this case that the prime source is likely a member of the review committee, or someone with access to its report. That's a bit closer than the 60,000 HHS employees wandering in DC bars! I don't know the Wash Post's rules for anonymous sources, but generally a reporter has to be able to tell an editor who the source is and the editor has to judge the merits. For that reason an FOIA request makes sense--though how soon it will be forthcoming is unpredictable.

Margaret - WashPost ombudsman Andrew Alexander wrote about his paper's rules and unsatisfactory practices on anonymous sources a couple of years ago: "Post Often Ignores Its Own Rules on Anonymous Sources". Today, that's a very illuminating precursor to reading articles like Markon's as well as many others. More on the subject from a Google search on [ Washington Post ombudsman "anonymous sources" ]. I would be very much interested in knowing the USCCB-HHS story and so far find it coming no closer from hopeful guesses, unsupported assumptions, anonymous sources, and Walsh wisecracks.

Right, incompetence is not the right word. To say "We are better" is not to say someone else is incompetent. That is the kind of language and exaggeration which is causing problems here, and demonstrates a rather dualistic ideology on top of a politically charged rhetoric that has yet to be proven.

Jack BarryThat is the problem I have with the story -- it is guesses, speculations, sources we not know, and a desire by Sister Walsh for some reason to antagonize the administration and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fact that sources now seem to indicate there might not be a case for an appeal suggests there are more things with this story, and I think the "pro-life" leaders who began with the attacks on health care reform are pulling no punches while not being so upfront and honest.

I read Walsh as claiming that at least one or two of the awardees aren't able to deliver the services for which they've been awarded the contract - e.g. that they are not up and running in the requisite amount of time. That is a lack of competence to perform the services one is contractually bound to deliver. "Incompetence" seems as good a word to describe that situation as any.

I don't know whether or not there are grounds to appeal the decision, nor whether such an appeal would be successful. I agree with Barbara that ultimately HHS, as the contracting agency, has a lot of leeway to set whatever decision criteria it wishes, so it's quite possible that there are insufficient grounds to appeal. By the same token, I'd imagine that nobody disputes the USCCB's right (or any concerned citizen's or group of citizen's right) to shine the sunlight of publicity on this unseemly and morally repugnant decision by an agency of the Obama Administration - indeed, the same agency charged with implementing the administration's controversial health care reform bill.

As far as I have heard, MRS has not been criticized for the quality of its past work. The money associated with the contract under discussion ($4.5M) or a share of it may be life and death to MRS. To put that amount in perspective, it would represent 0.1% of HHS's 2010 Grant Liability ($4.2B) and 25% of what the USCCB just received recently from HHS for other purposes ($19M). Why isn't the USCCB's #1 problem how to dig up, somewhere, a couple of million dollars so MRS can carry on this year? That would seem a more worthwhile expenditure of their available good will, diplomacy, connections, energy, wisdom, and strategizing than the present effort, depending on USCCB priorities. What are their priorities?

Jack Barry: Do you really think the bishops can raise $4.5millon for MRS? Who would give it to them? Not most Catholics, I wager. Maybe a really, really rich Catholic, but who would that be? While I think Sr. Walsh is doing the right thing in pursuing this issue (and yes, I know you all don't agree), the bishops continue to squander their authority and good will.

Margaret - Abp. Dolan, Pres. of the USCCB, claims in his religious liberty letter that the bishops are shepherds of over 70 million US citizens. If he and the hierarchy knew how to persuade just one out of every 16 of those Catholic citizens to contribute $1 each next year for this cause, they'd collect roughly $4.5M. I agree with your conclusion, though; they seem to act as if determined to squander their strengths and potential.

"Shepherds of over 70 million US citizens"? Hmmm! You'd think shepherds could actually count their sheep, including the ones that have gone astray.

I have no problem with someone shining light on the politically skewed or unfair decision making at an agency. It's a good thing, but there are two strands running through here: the one has to do with the agency's actions and the other with the agency's motives. In my view, the agency's actions are what they are -- the procurement process results in lots of suboptimal contracting decisions that are motivated by a variety of unfair (not to say improper) reasons, the most common being: I like the current contractor (overrating of past performance, in contract speak). Some of these motivations are actually sanctioned by the process itself -- I prefer a small business; I really want more than one organization providing these services; I want to buy items made in the U.S.That's why there are legions of people who can make a living counseling and litigating in the area. Thus, there might have been something skewy about the award -- but absent a lot more on the record information about the process, the rfp itself and a lot of other things, people are arriving at conclusions that go way beyond what can be supported on available information, and frankly, the USCCB seems to be looking for bias so that it can use it as yet another club to hammer the administration with. In other words, its claims of bias prompt suspicions about its own bias in the matter.

Aren't the real losers here the people who might have been helped with the $4.5 million in the hands of MRS. Will he hear the end story about how the new grantees perform with that amount?You DC insiders also seem to be confirming every Republican claim about government incompetence in spending our tax dollars.

No, Margaret, what you seem to be missing is that the government, unlike private actors, makes certain decisions unacceptable (I'm choosing you because I like you -- perfectly proper in the private world if it is not illegally discriminatory) and a process to try to correct for situations when the decision ends up being contrary to the rules. It also has to provide reaasons -- what you are pointing to as incompetence, on a relative scale, is really the transparency that allows you to know more about the government than a private actor.

To be clear, I do not share the Republican view....But do we really know more about this particular process and its adherence to the rules than we have read in the WashPost? Can you describe the transparency in this particular case?And, of course, any HHS person who would like to share what they know with dotCommonweal is welcome to do so.

All I can say is that HHS awards can typically be protested on the merits. Within that process, attorneys and others get data subject to a protective order that allows them to view competitive scoring and try to determine whether the government erred in awarding the contract one way or the other. If you go around talking to the press during that period there is a good chance you are violating the PO -- but in any event, you typically have a very narrow window of time in which to complain and trigger review. I don't know whether that window has closed. My instinct tells me that MRS was aware that the referral issue would be viewed as a bigger deal this time around, does not agree with that (which I understand) and therefore is really going after what it sees as the issue for itself -- which is WHETHER the referral for health care services deserved to receive the importance that it did, and one way of doing that is asserting that the agency's focus on that issue, even if it was a legitimate agency decision, led to an inferior contractor. That's a much harder issue to win on because that's like asking to rewrite the RFP.'s in the hands of MRS. Let's see what they do.

Hi, Barbara, re: your analysis in your 9:51 comment - I basically agree with the way you've broken it down. My reading of the "hammering" is that what the USCCB is pounding is, not the administration per se, but its policies and how those policies influence HHS procurement. That strikes me as eminently hammerable, and it doesn't require an ulterior conservative-politics motive, although it's understandable and probably inevitable that such thoughts would come to mind.

I agree with Jack Barry. Major Catholic donors are out there. If Archbishop Dolan took the lead, and then asked for assistance from the bishops of perhaps fifteen other large dioceses, the money could be achieved in six months' time. $10,000 here; $30,00 there. This is not at all unrealistic.The excellent service of MRS could then continue and without compromising Catholic teaching. I think the bishops would thereby have made an important point, and that it wouldn't go unnoticed in that city a mile from which I write.

John Page: An the important point would be....?

Margaret - According to his Post bio, the reporter Jerry Markon to whose story you link covers the Justice Dept for the paper and has years of experience covering various court houses, national security trials, a war crimes trial, judges, and the Supreme Court. Only the latest one of his 12 headlines shown relates to the HHS and anti-human-trafficking procurement issue. That raises the question of how familiar he is with the HHS area of the federal government -- the areas differ substantially in many complex ways, as does the area competence of individual reporters and their products. Partial Answer ** Recommended Reading ** What's the Problem? ** An excellent story by Markon in 2007 in the late months of the Bush administration is much to his credit and the Post's: "Human Trafficking Evokes Outrage, Little Evidence -- U.S. Estimates Thousands of Victims, But Efforts to Find Them Fall Short", 9/23/07. He draws on numerous named sources, including the author of the NRO article linked above, Steven Wagner, ex-HHS, to describe the genesis and bi-partisan promotion of the human-trafficking issue in DC. He details the extraordinarily wide uncertainties surrounding it. A 20111 credible update (is one available?) would clarify a lot of programmatic and funding priorities in the face of finite funds and personnel in the US and USCCB.

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