The House Government Operations Committee launched a triple-barreled attack on the Department of Health and Human Services yesterday.
One subcommittee voted to subpoena records from the Food and Drug Administration and the Office of Human Development Services. Another grilled a former Social Security computer whiz about alleged improprieties in the awarding of a major contract.
Led by Chairman Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), the intergovernmental relations subcommittee, on a party-line vote of 6 to 4, approved the issuance of subpoena for FDA and OHDS records. The subpoenas order Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret M. Heckler or her designee to appear before the subcommittee if the records are not produced by Dec. 2.
The FDA records sought by the subcommittee are reviews by outside scientists of an FDA internal report on the dangers of various red and orange color additives for foods and on the possibility of measuring how much risk the dyes present.
The subcommittee recently received some materials, but not the full, uncut versions it wants. Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.), opposing the subpoena, argued that the outside scientists were promised confidentiality.
Underlying the dispute, according to a report by the full committee, is the failure of HHS to carry out recommendations by three FDA commissioners, including the present one, to ban some or all of the dyes on grounds that they can cause various health problems, such as cancer.
Weiss said failure to ban the dyes violates various provisions of the law, including the Delaney clause, which outlaws the use of substances that can cause cancer in humans or laboratory animals.
The subpoena also seeks the names and professional histories of outside reviewers appointed by OHDS to help decide who should get two grants of about $250,000 a year each for the creation of two major centers on child abuse and neglect. The subcommittee, which said it had information about "possible political manipulation of the grant approval process," wants to find out whether the reviewers are experts in child abuse or whether some are merely ideological appointees. The subpoena also seeks copies of the evaluations made by the outside reviewers.
It said the initial bids for the two centers have been rejected, and new awards will be sought.
In a third action yesterday, a subcommittee headed by Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), who is also chairman of the full committee, questioned Marshall Mandell, who was Social Security data-processing chief from August 1982 until his resignation this year. Brooks asked Mandell about his dealings with two aides -- Kenneth M. Barry and Herbert Derian -- who, Brooks said, "have been found guilty" in bribery schemes. He was also asked about his role in the award of a systems contract in which management and computer advisory firm of Deloitte, Haskins & Sells was the major subcontractor.
Brooks said that "according to the General Accounting Office, high-level Social Security officials were regularly wined and dined by representatives of DH&S prior to the award" of the contract, now worth $32 million.
Mandell denied he knew that one of the aides, Derian, had solicited a $280,000 bribe from a Greenbelt computer software firm. (Derian pleaded guilty Oct. 24; Barry was convicted in January in a bribery scheme involving a California computer firm.)
He said he had been taken to lunch or dinner by DH&S officials but had paid for as many meals for them as they had for him -- a statement similar to those given at an earlier hearing by former Social Security commissioner John A. Svahn and a current high SSA official, Nelson Sabatini.
Mandell said that while he had helped determine the specifications on which would-be contractors bid, he had no direct role in awarding the contract or judging it, although he had signed off on it