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Trump’s Pick to Run Indian Health Service, Cited for Business Savvy, Had Financial Struggles

Robert Weaver has cited his private-sector business acumen as a qualification for the job, but a Journal review of his business and financial history shows he has had some difficulties in those areas.


By

Dan Frosch and

Christopher Weaver

President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Indian Health Service, Robert Weaver, is a member of the Quapaw tribe of Oklahoma.Photo: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the troubled Indian Health Service left his latest employer in a state of financial disarray, filed for personal bankruptcy and had liens imposed on one of his own businesses for failing to pay federal taxes, according to public documents and interviews.

The nominee, Robert Weaver, a member of the Quapaw tribe of Oklahoma, has cited his private-sector business acumen and leadership of several small businesses as key qualifications to lead the agency and its roughly $6 billion budget.

A review of Mr. Weaver’s business and financial history by The Wall Street Journal shows he has sometimes struggled in those areas.

The Journal sent questions to Mr. Weaver and the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the IHS. A spokesman for the department said the nominee is “a highly qualified candidate to lead” the Indian Health Service. Mr. Weaver didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The IHS runs a network of hospitals and clinics, and serves about 2.2 million Native Americans around the country. In recent years, the agency has faced a cavalcade of problems, including unsafe care at some hospitals, a shortage of medical providers and regulatory sanctions that have cut off key funding sources.

Supporters of Mr. Weaver, 39 years old, say he will bring a much needed outside perspective to the beleaguered agency. In a document provided to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which must approve his nomination, Mr. Weaver, in additional to citing his business savvy, has pointed to his “track record of ‘getting things done.’ ”

Mr. Weaver’s latest employer said he neglected important financial tasks, eventually leaving the firm in financial trouble when he quit to pursue his own business ventures.

While Mr. Weaver was working as the practice manager at Herndon Snider & Associates, a small Joplin, Mo., psychology office from 2004 to 2008, he fell far behind on billing insurance companies and collecting payments, said Herndon Snider, the practice’s founder.

“It was a major problem,” said Dr. Snider, a psychologist, referring to the clinic’s collections of payments during Mr. Weaver’s tenure. Dr. Snider said if a potential employer had asked for a reference, he wouldn’t have recommended Mr. Weaver for another position unless he was closely supervised.

When asked about Mr. Weaver’s tenure at the firm, the HHS spokesman said “Mr. Weaver had a good working relationship with the owners, and left on good terms.”

No hearing has been scheduled on Mr. Weaver’s nomination, and lawmakers told the Journal they are reviewing his qualifications.

In addition to his private-sector work, Mr. Weaver cited in his publicly available résumé and statements to lawmakers his “leadership roles” at a hospital, St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, where he said he had responsibility for areas such as “all accounts receivable” and the budget.

The Journal previously reported that longtime employees in those departments said they didn’t remember him. Since that article was published in January, former co-workers and supervisors told the Journal that Mr. Weaver held a series of low-level jobs as a patient-registration clerk from 1997 to 2004 and didn’t oversee all accounts receivable or work in budgeting.

“Mr. Weaver had many responsibilities during his time at St. John’s and looks forward to discussing those further with all involved in the confirmation process,” the HHS spokesman said.

Related

  • Trump Nominee to Lead Indian Health Services Faces Claims of Misrepresentation (Jan. 5)
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Mr. Weaver struggled to make ends meet while working at St. John’s, filing for personal bankruptcy in May 2001, court records show. He was on track to earn $26,062.32 that year, according to his bankruptcy petition, which stated his monthly pay. The filing said he was about $25,000 in debt. The bankruptcy was discharged later that year.

The HHS spokesman said Mr. Weaver has since gone on to become a successful entrepreneur with several businesses.

Mr. Weaver didn’t mention his four years working at the psychology clinic on his public résumé. He did disclose his practice-manager job there to the committee.

The HHS spokesman declined to comment on that discrepancy in his résumé.

Dr. Snider said billing, collecting payments and managing expenses fell so far behind under Mr. Weaver that Dr. Snider had to return to the practice full-time to help his daughter, who had taken it over, right the clinic’s finances.

When Sen. Tom Udall, (D., N.M.), a committee member, asked Mr. Weaver in a meeting about his tenure there, Mr. Weaver “responded with a long and rambling explanation about a dispute over $100,000 that he had had with Mr. Snider and his daughter” after notifying them that he was leaving, according to Jennifer Talhelm, a spokeswoman for the lawmaker.

Ms. Talhelm said Sen. Udall had requested further explanation about his departure, but Mr. Weaver hasn’t provided it.

“Mr. Weaver worked for us as an officer manager during the time period he reported,” said Jan Snider Kent, Dr. Snider’s daughter. “I have no further comment.”

The HHS spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Weaver’s conversation with Mr. Udall.

In 2007, Mr. Weaver started the first of a series of businesses and began selling Aflac insurance products while still working at the psychology practice, associates recalled. Dr. Snider said he believed that venture distracted Mr. Weaver from his practice duties.

In response to the Journal’s questions, the HHS spokesman said Mr. Weaver rejected Dr. Snider’s characterization of his tenure at the firm.

Later in 2007, Mr. Weaver’s business got a boost from his own tribe. The HHS spokesman said he became the broker for the tribe’s Downstream Casino, in the northeast corner of Oklahoma.

He soon fell behind on his taxes by the middle of 2010: Two federal lien notices filed the next year show the business, RWI Benefits LLC, owed more than $120,000 in unpaid taxes.

In February 2012, the Internal Revenue Service released both tax liens, saying Mr. Weaver had satisfied the outstanding taxes, according to IRS filings.

The HHS spokesman said Mr. Weaver didn’t need to disclose the liens to government ethics officials because they were released more than a year ago, citing what he said was a federal ethics-disclosure policy.

Write to Dan Frosch at dan.frosch@wsj.com and Christopher Weaver at christopher.weaver@wsj.com

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