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National Bureau of Economic Research Dragged Into Jonathan Gruber Scandal

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Jonathan Gruber is more than the “architect” of ObamaCare. He’s also built himself a cozy kingdom at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a well-respected “centrist” think tank based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The MIT professor has a long affiliation with the NBER that extends back to 1992. Since 2009 he has been the organization’s Health Care Program Director. But a Breitbart News investigation into Gruber’s use of research assistants is bringing the NBER’s conduct into question.

New evidence unearthed by Breitbart News indicates that much of the research assistant work performed for Gruber’s 2009 $392,600 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop economic models for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) seems to have been conducted by an employee of the NBER.

The C.V. of former NBER employee Ian Perry, a 2009 graduate of Harvard, states that his job title at NBER from 2009 to 2011 was “Research Assistant to Dr. Jonathan Gruber (MIT).”

According to his Linked In account, during this period of employment at NBER, Perry conducted a series of work activities that appear to be directly associated with Professor Gruber’s personal 2009 contract with the Department of HHS:

Research Assistant for Dr. Jonathan Gruber (MIT)
National Bureau of Economic Research
April 2009 – August 2011 (2 years 5 months) Cambridge, MA
-Produced 20-30 time-sensitive modeling analyses per week for senior White House officials, members of Congress, and Congressional staffers to shape the Affordable Care Act and influence Congressional negotiations.
-Interfaced and coordinated with representatives of 9 states, advocacy organizations, major newspapers, and health insurance providers to evaluate effects of healthcare legislation.
-Co-authored 2 forthcoming reports on early implementation of healthcare reform and health insurance affordability.
-Analyzed data for Congressional testimony, advocacy reports, and op-ed columns by Prof. Jonathan Gruber.
-Enhanced and expanded the Gruber Microsimulation Model to improve accuracy, develop 6 major new functions, and reverse-engineer proprietary analyses conducted by the Congressional Budget Office.

That would indicate he worked for Gruber on both federal and state modeling contracts while working for NBER. “I don’t have a comment on this,” Perry emailed Breitbart News this week when asked about his work for Professor Gruber while at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Breitbart News also emailed Gruber and asked him if Perry performed private work for him in the completion of his 2009 contract with the Department of HHS while Perry was being paid for that work by the NBER. We also asked Gruber if he had subcontracted any of his work to the NBER, which, on the face of it, would appear to be a clear violation of the NBER’s stated mission.

Gruber did not respond to Breitbart News’s inquiries.

According to its website, “the National Bureau of Economic Research is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research in a scientific manner, and without policy recommendations, among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.”

In effect, Gruber appears to have used the financial and manpower resources of the purportedly “unbiased” NBER to manipulate and game the Congressional Budget Office’s economic model on behalf of the highly partisan Obama administration in support of a very specific policy recommendation. That would directly contravene the organization’s stated mission.

News that one of its employees was apparently paid to perform work on Professor Gruber’s controversial and deceptive modeling project for the Department of HHS, from which Gruber personally profited, would strike a blow at the 94-year-old organization’s carefully managed reputation as a “non-partisan” organization.

Gruber’s 2009 contract with the Department of HHS makes no mention that the NBER would be used as a subcontractor, or that its employees would be utilized to perform the work of the contract.

For his part, publicly available documents indicate that, until the inquiry from Breitbart News, Perry has not been shy about describing work remarkably similar to that called for in Gruber’s 2009 contract with HHS. While employed “two years as a research assistant with the National Bureau of Economic Research,” Perry “work[ed] with policymakers to model the impact of health insurance reforms,” according to a 2011 Commonwealth Fund paper he co-authored with Professor Gruber.

This health care modeling work performed by Perry under Professor Gruber’s direction while being paid by the NBER is exactly the sort of work for which Gruber himself was paid an estimated $5 million by the Department of HHS and a dozen states to perform under contract to them between 2009 and 2014.

Gruber’s apparent use of a paid employee of the NBER to perform work on his private personal contract may be a violation of the NBER’s conflict of interest policy, which states that “[a]ny director, officer, member of a committee with board delegated powers, or a person in a position to exercise substantial influence over the affairs of the NBER (as determined under section 4958 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, and the Treasury Regulations issued thereunder) who has a direct or indirect financial interest…[such as a] compensation arrangement with the NBER or with any entity or individual with which the NBER has a transaction arrangement…is an interested person.”

Breitbart News has also identified that a current NBER employee, a 2014 graduate of MIT, works at the organization as a research analyst but also continues to work as a research assistant for Professor Gruber, a position that he has held since 2011.

The similarity between the research activities performed for Professor Gruber by Perry while employed by NBER and the private work he conducted raises several questions. Similarly, the simultaneous employment by NBER and Professor Gruber of a research analyst raises several questions, which we posed to Charles Radin, Director of Public Information:

1. Does the NBER have a formal policy that allows employees to work on NBER projects as well as private projects conducted by NBER affiliated professors simultaneously?
2. While Ian Perry was employed by the NBER from 2009 to 2011 was his job title “Research Assistant to Dr. Jonathan Gruber (MIT) ” as his C.V. states?
3. To your knowledge, were either Mr. Perry, [your current research analyst who doubles as a Gruber research assistant], or any other NBER employees granted permission to work on Professor Gruber’s private contracts while being paid for those activities by the NBER?
4. To your knowledge, were either Mr. Perry, [your current research analyst who doubles as a Gruber research assistant], or any other NBER employees granted permission to work on Professor Gruber’s private contracts with the understanding that Professor Gruber would pay them directly for that research work?
5. To your knowledge, has [your current research analyst who doubles as a Gruber research assistant] worked as a research assistant in 2014 for Jonathan Gruber in the performance of his personal services contract with the state of Vermont, and if so, has this research analyst been paid by Dr. Gruber at the $100 per hour rate he billed the state of Vermont for research assistant services?
6. At what hourly rate does the NBER bill out its research assistants (both internally and externally)?

Breitbart News has, as of yet, received no response from Radin.

The answers to these questions could open a Pandora’s box of problems for Professor Gruber, the NBER, the Department of HHS, and every state that hired Professor Gruber to perform Obamacare-related economic projections.

News of the questionable relationship between the NBER and Gruber comes at a time when the controversial MIT professor has an extremely high profile. Last week, The Economist named Gruber the “most influential economist” of 2014, though in fairness to the other economists on the list, “infamous” may be a more accurate descriptor than “influential.”

A higher profile is something that is unlikely to benefit either the NBER or Gruber, especially in light of a steadily increasing number of public inquiries into Gruber’s billing practices and work product.

Gruber has yet to provide any documentation, formally requested by the Vermont State Auditor, to demonstrate that he paid research assistants for $80,000 worth of work Gruber billed for under a 2014 contract with the state of Vermont.

Given Professor Gruber’s long and close association with the NBER, it remains unclear how much, if any, of the estimated $5 million he was paid by the Department of HHS and an estimated dozen states to perform Obamacare economic projections benefited from work performed by research assistants paid by the “unbiased” NBER.


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