White House puts off action on surprise medical bills, punts to Congress

The White House is putting off executive action to crack down on surprise medical bills, instead calling on Congress to act on the issue.  

The Trump administration had been working on a potentially far-reaching proposal to protect patients from getting stuck with massive “surprise” medical bills when they get care from a doctor who happened to be outside their insurance network, according to people familiar with the plans. 

But after pushback from health care provider groups, GOP lawmakers, and debate within the administration, the White House is instead issuing a much more limited executive order simply calling on Congress to act on the issue. 

Reining in surprise medical bills has been a priority for both parties for months, and is seen as a key patient protection.  

The order released Thursday calls on the administration to take executive action if Congress does not act by Jan. 1, but it does not specify what that action would be, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said on a press call. 

The announcement comes as part of a speech President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump’s refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: ‘What country are we in?’ Romney: ‘Unthinkable and unacceptable’ to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE is making Thursday afternoon in North Carolina, where he is seeking to tout his record on health care, an issue where Republicans are being battered by Democrats, ahead of the election. 

The White House had been considering a surprise billing order that would have been the more substantive part of the announcement, coupled with a largely symbolic order on pre-existing conditions. 

But the surprise billing order is now essentially punting the issue to Congress, where both parties have been calling for action for over a year, but nothing has yet passed. 

The White House declined to comment on changes to the surprise billing order.  

One of the options that had been considered, sources say, was an executive order to ban health care providers from surprise billing patients as a condition of participating in the Medicare program, a serious enforcement stick.  

Health care providers pushed back on that idea with the administration, according to a lobbyist. 

Some GOP lawmakers, including members of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House, also pushed back on the surprise billing ideas being discussed by the White House, according to a House GOP aide. Conservative outside groups also contacted the White House to object. 

There was also internal debate on the issue within the administration, according to an administration official.  

The result is a far narrower order that simply calls on Congress to keep working on the issue. Lawmakers have so far been unable to reach agreement, despite support for taking action from both parties, amid a variety of turf battles between committees and lobbying from powerful doctor and hospital groups, including some backed by private equity companies. 

Azar said on the press call

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White House urges Congress to pass separate aid bill for airlines

By Andrea Shalal and Steve Holland



a plane sitting on the tarmac at an airport: FILE PHOTO: American Airlines planes are parked at the gate during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Washington


© Reuters/Joshua Roberts
FILE PHOTO: American Airlines planes are parked at the gate during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is urging U.S. lawmakers to pass separate bills to aid airlines and other sectors, given failure to reach agreement on a broader package of stimulus funding, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Congress has been deadlocked over another round of economic stimulus aimed at blunting the effects of the coronavirus pandemic that has now killed over 200,000 people in the United States.

U.S. airlines, facing a huge drop in demand due to virus-related lockdowns, on Tuesday mounted a last-ditch bid to persuade Congress to approve a new $25 billion bailout to help avert thousands of furloughs set to begin Oct. 1.

Delta Air Lines has agreed to delay a decision on pilot furloughs until Nov. 1, the pilots union said on Tuesday.

Two key Republican senators this week introduced a bill that would authorize $28.8 billion in payroll aid for the airlines. But congressional aides say a stand-alone measure is unlikely to win passage given aid requests from so many other struggling industries.

McEnany said talks about a broader stimulus measure were continuing with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and said the White House’s agreement to accept a measure valued at $1.5 trillion could still lead to some progress.

In the absence of a bigger bill, she urged Pelosi to work on separate legislation to address the needs of airlines, which have warned that they will be forced to carry out mass layoffs unless they receive additional assistance.

“The onus is really on Speaker Pelosi, so we encourage her to send one-off bills, perhaps airline funding, or other elements that we could work through the process to get to the American people,” she told a briefing at the White House.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a member of House Democratic leadership, said the House in mid-May passed a comprehensive $3.4 trillion coronavirus-response bill that the administration rejected, and said any bill had to be “a meaningful agreement.”

“We can’t have a cosmetic fake agreement. … That’s what the president wants, a fake agreement,” he told a weekly briefing.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; writing by Andrea Shalal; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

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White House, Congress struggle to complete stop-gap spending bill as October shutdown looms

Trump weighed in on the issue over Twitter, writing: “Pelosi wants to take 30 Billion Dollars away from our great Farmers. Can’t let that happen!”

Trump has already spent several years directing tens of billions of dollars in bailout funds to farmers by using a Depression-era law in a way that even some Agriculture Department officials believed was possibly improper. To continue sending the funds, Trump needs congressional approval, and Democrats have opposed sending more bailout money to farmers because they allege he is using the taxpayer money to try and mollify the political backlash to his trade policies.

Trump announced at a rally Thursday night in the battleground state of Wisconsin that farmers would get an additional $13 billion, money from the same fund that the administration is seeking to replenish via the short-term spending bill.

“We have serious concerns about giving President Trump a blank check to spread political favors,” a senior House Democratic aide involved in the talks said in explaining the Democrats’ opposition to the money. “It is an abuse of taxpayer dollars to give this administration more money so the president can grab headlines with announcements at campaign rallies.” The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Additionally, Democrats are seeking more money for food assistance to children impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. They also want $3.6 billion in additional election security funds as part of the short-term bill — something Republicans oppose.

The talks on the short-term spending bill are separate from the stalemate over a new coronavirus relief bill. That standoff showed no signs of budging on Friday, as Pelosi continued to hold out for a $2.2 trillion bill that Republicans have rejected — despite pressure from moderates in her caucus to give ground.

Pelosi dismissed a reporter’s question about whether she was letting the perfect be the enemy of the good regarding the broader coronavirus relief bill. She reiterated that she has already compromised from a $3.4 trillion bill House Democrats passed in May, which the White House and Senate Republicans dismissed.

“It’s not perfect … perfect is $3.4 trillion,” Pelosi said. “This is not about perfect being the enemy of the good.”

Trump has recently signaled he would be comfortable with a bill in the area of $1.5 trillion. Both Trump and House Democrats have said they support legislation that would send another round of stimulus checks to Americans, as well as more unemployment assistance.

The plight of airlines is also a growing area of concern for members of both parties. A provision from the Cares Act that required airlines to keep workers on payroll in exchange for aid expires Sept. 30, and major airlines have warned of mass lay-offs.

In a letter Friday to congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the head of United Airlines and the leaders of several major airline unions urged Congress to renew negotiations on a new covid relief bill that would include an extension of the airline Payroll Support Program. The

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Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf Defies House Subpoena to Testify Before Congress | National News

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf did not show up to testify in front of a House committee Thursday, defying a subpoena lawmakers issued last week compelling him to appear.

Wolf skipped Thursday’s House Homeland Security Committee hearing on threats to national security, an anticipated move that punctuated days of back-and-forth between committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, and the Department of Homeland Security over Wolf’s appearance.

President Donald Trump in late August announced his intention to nominate Wolf, who has served as the acting DHS secretary for 10 months, to the permanent secretary position, and formally did so on Sept. 10. DHS last week told the House Homeland Security Committee that Wolf would be unavailable to testify as previously scheduled because it would be “contrary to standard practice” for a nominee to testify while his nomination was pending. Thompson then issued a subpoena for Wolf to appear Thursday.

Wolf was supposed to appear alongside FBI Director Christopher Wray, who did testify before the committee.

DHS, which called the subpoena “brazenly partisan,” says officials offered to instead send the department’s No. 2, Ken Cuccinelli, to testify at the hearing.

Thompson criticized Wolf’s decision not to appear Thursday during his opening statement at the hearing, noting that there is no legal prohibition barring Wolf from testifying.

“Mr. Wolf has run the Department of Homeland Security for the last 10 months and has been responsible for numerous decisions directly relevant to the subjects the Committee intends to explore,” Thompson said. “Regrettably, he has chosen to defy the subpoena. That he would refuse to come before the committee after committing to do so should appall every member of this committee. Insisting Mr. Wolf keeps his commitment to testifying before Congress isn’t playing politics – it’s doing our job.”

Political Cartoons on Congress

Thompson also noted that Wolf has made numerous media appearances since his nomination to the permanent secretary position, “including no fewer than four appearances on Fox News.”

During the hearing, Cuccinelli and the committee got into a spat on Twitter about the matter.

The brouhaha comes amid increased scrutiny of Wolf’s position and actions. Last week, an explosive whistleblower report alleged that Wolf and Cuccinelli pressured analysts to alter reports on Russian election interference, downplay the threat of violent white supremacists and make other changes to intelligence reports.

In August, the agency that serves as Congress’ independent investigative watchdog concluded that both Wolf and Cuccinelli were ineligible for their current positions – a finding DHS has dismissed as incorrect.

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GOP Reveals Plan To Reclaim Congress, Oust Nancy Pelosi As House Speaker

KEY POINTS

  • House Republicans revealed a 17-item agenda in an effort to retake control of the House in the Nov. 3 general election
  • The document details plans to restore, rebuild, and renew America on a variety of issues
  • The GOP needs to gain 34 seats in the House to unseat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

The GOP on Tuesday released 17 legislative promises in an effort to reclaim control of Congress and remove Democrat Nancy Pelosi from her position as Speaker of the House. 

The “Commitment to America” contains multiple items and resembles the eight-point Contract with America that helped the Republicans retake the House in 1994 for the first time in four decades. 

In the document, the GOP committed to defeating the coronavirus pandemic by tripling the numbers of rapid COVID testing and developing a safe and effective vaccine by the end of the year. They also promised to expand access to affordable medical services such as telemedicine, mental health programs, and opioid treatments. 

House Republicans said they want to “restore our way of life” by opposing efforts to defund the police and increasing funding to improve police training and community policing.

The document comes amid protests across the country following the August police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kensoha, Wisc.; the May killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police; and the March death of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by three plain-clothes officers serving a no-knock warrant in Louisville, Ky.

Another one of the Republicans’ pledges includes “rebuilding the greatest economy in history” by continuing the Paycheck Protection Program, extending the $2,000 child tax credit, and ending U.S. dependence on products manufactured in China.

“Republicans helped build the greatest economy in a generation, and the American way of life was thriving. We will do it again. That is our commitment to you,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during a press release.

According to the New York Post, McCarthy is likely to be House Speaker if Republicans can win the majority of the House’s seats in the Nov. 3 general election. Currently, the Democrats have an advantage of 34 seats. The GOP currently has a four-seat advantage in the Senate.

The Republicans also promised to honor U.S. war veterans by funding the VA Choice healthcare program and expanding GI education benefits. They also pledge to strengthen the country’s military forces and secure the borders by enforcing immigration laws.

Other agenda points include a pledge to improve education by giving students school choice and investing in science, technology, and engineering education.

People register to vote during a Republican event in Brownsville, Pennsylvania People register to vote during a Republican event in Brownsville, Pennsylvania Photo: AFP / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS

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‘Problem Solvers’ Meet Their Match in U.S. Congress Coronavirus Aid Fight | Top News

By Patricia Zengerle and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday said Democrats were open to delaying an October recess to get a deal with Republicans on a new coronavirus aid bill, as a $1.5 trillion proposal unveiled by moderates was attacked by conservatives and liberals.

With the U.S. presidential and congressional elections less than two months away, Congress and the White House have been unable to agree on a fifth coronavirus bill, having approved more than $3 trillion worth of measures earlier this year.

“We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement,” Pelosi, a Democrat, said in a CNBC interview, adding that there were disagreements with Republicans on how to “crush the virus” that has now killed more than 194,000 people in the United States.

The House was scheduled to recess no later than Oct. 2 so members can campaign at home for re-election on Nov. 3. But, echoing Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said lawmakers will be on indefinite standby, with 24 hours notice of any vote on a coronavirus aid bill if a deal is reached.

The difficulties in reaching such a deal were on full display as lawmakers from varying points along the political spectrum attacked the compromise floated by the House “Problem Solvers Caucus.”

Some conservatives labeled it as way too expensive at $1.5 trillion. And liberals complained it fell far short of what was needed to boost an economy plagued by the pandemic, and to save lives as more than 194,000 have been killed by COVID-19 in the United States.

Meanwhile, Congress is expected to focus in coming weeks on passing legislation funding the government beyond Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Hoyer said that a stopgap money bill to avert government shutdowns would be put to a House vote next week.

The Problem Solvers proposal drew praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Executive Vice President Neil Bradley called it “a reasonable middle ground,” but said expanded liability protections for businesses, something Democrats oppose, still had to be addressed.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, including 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans, has been working to find common ground on coronavirus relief for the past six weeks.

“We can’t wait,” Representative Josh Gottheimer, the group’s Democratic co-chairman, told a news conference, saying the proposal was intended to get the two sides back to the table.

The gulf between Democrats in Congress and the White House is wide. In mid-May, the House approved a $3.4 trillion aid plan. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded by calling for a “pause” in any new funds.

By late July, he offered a $1 trillion bill that many of his fellow Republicans rejected, only to then put a $300 billion bill up for a vote that Democrats blocked as insufficient. Meanwhile, Pelosi had offered to drop her aid demand to $2.4 trillion and the White House signaled a willingness to accept $1.3 trillion.

Representative Tom Reed,

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White House blocks Navarro from testifying before Congress

WASHINGTON — White House trade adviser Peter Navarro is refusing to testify before a House subcommittee about a canceled contract for ventilators that Democrats say would have wasted more than $500 million.



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“Despite the astonishing scale of this waste; the loss of more than 190,000 lives; and his willingness to appear on the cable news shows of his choice — Mr. Navarro refuses to appear before Congress to answer for his actions,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, chairman of the House Oversight subcommittee on economic and consumer policy, said in a statement Monday.

Peter Navarro: The question of how much convalescent plasma helps, ‘that’s to be determined’

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This comes after an interview Navarro did with CNN on Sunday went off the rails when it was cut short after he argued with host Jake Tapper about the revelations from Bob Woodward’s new book last week that President Donald Trump intentionally downplayed the coronavirus in the early months of the pandemic.

Krishnamoorthi said that the contract with company Philips Respironics would have wasted $504 million. He said the hearing, which was set for Wednesday, is now canceled.

Michael Purpura, deputy counsel to the president, wrote in a letter to Krishnamoorthi last week stating that the White House declines the invitation to make Navarro available for testimony because “in accordance with long-standing Executive Branch precedent presidential advisers generally do not testify in Congress.”

Last week, Krishnamoorthi said in an interview on MSNBC that Navarro “botched” the contract with Philips and lawmakers want to know “what else is out there in terms of wasteful spending in other pandemic procurement efforts.”

HHS canceled some of these ventilator contracts at the beginning of September, announcing in a statement that the national stockpile had reached its maximum capacity for ventilators, with nearly 120,000 available for deployment.

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Overnight Energy: Interior watchdog says officials misled Congress | Trump admin finalizes rule on royalty cuts for mining

HAPPY TUESDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill’s roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.



a group of people on a sidewalk: Overnight Energy: Interior watchdog says officials misled Congress | Trump admin finalizes rule on royalty cuts for mining | Groups pressure Biden to exclude fossil fuel execs


© Rebecca Beitsch
Overnight Energy: Interior watchdog says officials misled Congress | Trump admin finalizes rule on royalty cuts for mining | Groups pressure Biden to exclude fossil fuel execs

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THE LEAD STORY: Top Interior Department officials misled Congress when they claimed high office rent in Washington, D.C., was a factor in the need to move the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to a new headquarters in Colorado, the agency’s internal watchdog found.

A report on Tuesday from Interior’s Office of Inspector General found that two officials overplayed the cost of BLM’s M Street SE lease near Nationals Park as a motivating factor in the move, as the agency already had plans underway to return to office space owned by the government.

Joseph Balash, a former assistant secretary for land and minerals management who now works in the oil industry, and BLM acting Director William Perry Pendley, whose tenure with the agency is the subject of a lawsuit, are implicated in the report.

Both men wrote in correspondence with Congress that BLM would be unable to stay in its existing M Street SE office because the cost would exceed the $50 per square foot limit set by the government.

The report found the claims were “misleading” and said that “the future lease cost of 20 M Street was irrelevant.”

Interior announced in July 2019 that it would move more than 200 of BLM’s D.C.-based employees to existing offices across the West, while putting nearly 25 of its top-ranking leaders at a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo. The move would leave just 61 of BLM’s 10,000 employees in Washington.

The move was considered a victory for Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is facing a tight reelection campaign, but it raised the eyebrows of former BLM employees, who questioned why the agency would leave such a small footprint in D.C. and set up shop in a town four hours from any major airport.

But well before Grand Junction was on the drawing board, BLM was already planning to leave its M Street SE space.

“When we got that lease it was a bargain,” said Steve Ellis, who retired from the highest-ranking career position within BLM in 2016.

“Since we moved people in there, Nationals Park popped up across the street, the area’s become much more popular and built up. That’s a good thing, but it meant the lease would be cost prohibitive when it ended, so we we’re looking around at options.”

Rather than pay more than $50 per square foot, the inspector general found evidence from both 2016 and 2017 that the department “had longstanding plans” to move BLM employees either to the Main Interior Building (MIB) or another federal

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White House and Congress reach informal deal to avert a government shutdown at end of month

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration have come to an informal deal to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month when the federal government is set to run out of funding, two congressional sources said Thursday.

Donald Trump mocks the way Biden wears his mask

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Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came to the agreement Tuesday during a phone call about the two sides’ stalled efforts to pass another COVID-19 relief package, a source familiar with the call said. The deal would extend government funding at the same levels they are currently operating at and will likely allow both sides of the aisle to avoid a high-stakes series of negotiations before voters cast their ballots in November. 



a person wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., wears a face mask as she arrives to speak at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2020.


© Carolyn Kaster, AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., wears a face mask as she arrives to speak at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2020.

Full details about the agreement were not available but staff-level talks are set to begin soon, the two congressional sources said, adding that no decisions have been set in stone on how long the bill would last. 

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While discussions have picked back up between Democrats and the administration on another stimulus relief package to help Americans and businesses weathering the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unclear whether any stimulus relief might be added to the government spending bill. Pelosi and Mnuchin did not explicitly discuss the option and did not rule it out, one source familiar with their conversation said. 

The agreement may ease worries about another government shutdown. But it doesn’t solve the issue of how to offer relief to Americans suffering the economic fallout. The two sides remain divided over what they want in a new round of coronavirus relief.

Pelosi, Mnuchin, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows negotiated for weeks trying to reconcile the Democrats’ roughly $3.4 trillion plan with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s $1.1 trillion package. Both proposals included $1,200 direct payments for struggling Americans, billions for schools trying to reopen and money for businesses trying to stay afloat. 

The inaction prompted Trump to sign four executive orders to continue some aspects of earlier stimulus bills, but they did not address all the relief sought in talks. After he signed the orders, the two sides continued to blame the other side for the impasse as Congress left for a month-long recess. 

The Senate returns from its recess next week, potentially the last opportunity for Congress to act on coronavirus legislation while also juggling must-pass bills to keep the government funded. Senate Republicans have said they hope to vote on a smaller COVID-19 bill next week, though the legislation is likely to face opposition from

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Interior watchdog: top officials misled Congress on BLM relocation out West

Top Interior Department officials misled Congress when they claimed high office rent in Washington, D.C., was a factor in the need to move the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to a new headquarters in Colorado, the agency’s internal watchdog found.

A report on Tuesday from Interior’s Office of Inspector General found that two officials overplayed the cost of BLM’s M Street SE lease near Nationals Park as a motivating factor in the move, as the agency already had plans underway to return to office space owned by the government.

Joseph Balash, a former assistant secretary for land and minerals management who now works in the oil industry, and BLM acting Director William Perry Pendley, whose tenure with the agency is the subject of a lawsuit, are implicated in the report.

Both men wrote in correspondence with Congress that BLM would be unable to stay in its existing M Street SE office because the cost would exceed the $50 per square foot limit set by the government.

The report found the claims were “misleading” and said that “the future lease cost of 20 M Street was irrelevant.”

Interior announced in July of last year that it would move more than 200 of BLM’s Washington-based employees to existing offices across the West, while putting nearly 25 of its top-ranking leaders at a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo. The move would leave just 61 of BLM’s 10,000 employees in Washington.

The move was considered a victory for Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerMail-in voting won’t hurt conservatives — Trump will Overnight Energy: Interior watchdog says officials misled Congress | Trump admin finalizes rule on royalty cuts for mining | Groups pressure Biden to exclude fossil fuel execs Interior watchdog: top officials misled Congress on BLM relocation out West MORE (R-Colo.), who is facing a tight reelection campaign, but it raised the eyebrows of former BLM employees, who questioned why the agency would leave such a small footprint in D.C. and set up shop in a town four hours from any major airport.

But well before Grand Junction was on the drawing board, BLM was already planning to leave its M Street SE space.

“When we got that lease it was a bargain,” said Steve Ellis, who retired from the highest-ranking career position within BLM in 2016. 

“Since we moved people in there, Nationals Park popped up across the street, the area’s become much more popular and built up. That’s a good thing, but it meant the lease would be cost prohibitive when it ended, so we we’re looking around at options.”

Rather than pay more than $50 per square foot, the inspector general found evidence from both 2016 and 2017 that the department “had longstanding plans” to move BLM employees either to the Main Interior Building (MIB) or another federal facility.

“The evidence indicated that the future lease cost of 20 M Street was irrelevant at that point due to the department’s earlier plans to move the BLM into the MIB or

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