Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Patricia R. Haris is trying to cover up dishonesty in her department by forbidding HEW employes to speak to congressmen without her permission, Rep. Tom Tauke (R.-Iowa) charged yesterday.
In a speech on the House floor, Tauke denounced a memo Harris issued just a week after taking office in August that imposed the restriction. He said it was "a direct attempt . . . to subvert the protection of the 'whistleblower legislation' which Congress passed [last year] to afford protection to . . . employes who come forward with evidence of corruption. . . ."
William Wise, Harris's chief spokesman, said the memo was issued "to bring some order into our communications." Officials are supposed to obtain approval from HEW's assistant secretary for legislation, he said, so people would know "who spoke for HEW and who spoke from another agenda."
There was "no intent," Wise said, "to prevent any individuals from using their rights as a member of the labor organization or as an individual to contact a member of Congress."
In the Aug. 16 memo Harris declared:
"Until further notice, there are to be no meetings, calls, or staff contacts with members of Congress or staff, White House Staff, Office of Management and Budget or the Economic Policy Group regarding proposed or pending legislation, 1980 authorizations or appropriations, or policy development without prior discussion with me through the assistant secretary for legislation."
Tauke, a member of the House subcommittee on post-secondary educations, said he had been investigating charges of "favoritism and politics" in the $120 million a year aid program for "developing" colleges.
"Last week I called a respected and normally very cooperative [HEW] employe [about the aid program]," Tauke said. "The employe was nervous, afraid to talk . . . . The employe noted that HEW employes cannot talk to members of Congress or their staffs. Suddenly, there was a strange silence on the other end of the phone, and then the employe said, And I don't think you want to talk to me because this phone is probably tapped."
Wise denied emphatically that any phones are tapped at HEW. He said Harris would be "outraged if she thought any such thing was going on."