House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa warned Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Wednesday that obstructing a congressional investigation is a criminal offense.
Issa's warning came in a letter in which the California Republican told Sebelius that her department's "hostility toward questions from Congress and the media about the implementation of Obamacare is well known."
Issa said that hostility has recently "morphed from mere obstinacy into criminal obstruction of a federal investigation."
The House panel is investigating the troubled-plagued healthcare.gov website that is the main Internet portal for the Obamacare program.
Obamacare is managed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of HHS.
Officials under Sebelius at CMS sent letters to contractors involved in creating the website last week, ordering them not to give the committee information about "sensitive security testing and evaluation information," including data about vulnerabilities with the site.
The letters told the companies their contracts with the government precluded them from giving information to third parties, and instructed them to let CMS respond to congressional inquiries.
In its Dec. 6 letter to Creative Computing Solutions Inc., CMS claimed to be cooperating with Congress, but warned that personal and security information is highly confidential and could undermine security on the site, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Examiner.
But the idea that the CMS contract supersedes congressional authority is "without merit," Issa said.
"In fact, it strains credulity to such an extent that it creates the appearance that the department is using the threat of litigation to deter private companies from cooperating with Congress," he told Sebelius.
CMS ordered the companies to report third-party questions to CMS and not to provide any information without permission from the department.
Issa told Sebelius to avoid any further communication with the companies about congressional inquiries.
Read the Issa letter here.