By Dan Frosch and Christopher Weaver
Updated Feb. 24, 2020 8:03 pm ET
Lawmakers who oversee the U.S. Indian Health Service are demanding the health care agency release a report on its mishandling of a pedophile doctor that it wants to keep confidential, saying the agency must be held accountable.
On Monday, Sen. Tom Udall, (D., N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a statement that the IHS ran the risk of an “appearance of a desire to avoid accountability” if it didn’t disclose “as much of the report as is possible, as soon as possible.” The report focused on the IHS’s failure to protect children during the nearly 30-year-career of staff pediatrician, Stanley Patrick Weber, who was later convicted of sexually abusing Native American boys.
Also on Monday, Sen. Steve Daines (R., Mont.), in a letter to Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the IHS, wrote: “I am concerned over the lack of transparency with this report, and I strongly urge you to make this report public.”
The IHS commissioned the independent investigation last May, months after The Wall Street Journal and the PBS series Frontline jointly reported that IHS employees ignored warnings about Weber’s abuse of Native American boys for years and shuffled him from one reservation to another despite suspicions.
Last week, the agency said it wouldn’t release the report prepared by contractor Integritas Creative Solutions LLC, because it considered its findings confidential under a 2010 law. That stance prompted anger from victims’ families, former employees and tribal officials.
Mr. Udall said that IHS, which provides health care to about 2.6 million Native Americans, needed to provide a detailed justification to Congress of any legal barriers it was using to keep the report confidential.
Mr. Daines said the agency could release the report but make “appropriate redactions” to protect the privacy of patients and Weber’s victims.
The IHS said it is committed to transparency and is following the law in keeping the report confidential. “Staff are encouraged to participate in these reviews and to be as transparent as possible with the understanding that the goal is to improve the system, not to take punitive action,” the agency said.
The IHS also said it would release a report to Congressional committees overseeing the agency with certain redactions “as soon as possible.”
Other lawmakers joined Messrs. Udall and Daines in urging more transparency from the IHS after its contractor completed the report last month.
“Montanans, and all Americans, expect accountability from their government, perhaps no more so than when a government agency has deeply failed the people it is intended to serve,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.), in a statement.