2023 Carl Levin Award for Effective Oversight

U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Todd Young (R-IN), and Ben Cardin (D-MD)

The Carl Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy at Wayne State University Law School honored Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Todd Young (R-IN), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) with the 2023 Carl Levin Award for Effective Oversight for their bipartisan, fact-based efforts over several years to investigate and improve the national organ donation program.

The subject of their investigation was the failure of a federal contractor, UNOS, to competently manage the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) which is made up of some 57 Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) responsible for obtaining and distributing organs to patients on the organ donation waiting list. UNOS has been the lone contractor managing OPTN for 40 years and the results in too many cases have been tragic.

The senators found that organs were being discarded before they could be used, and people were dying because they couldn’t get the organs they needed. The investigation conducted by these four senators resulted in several hearings and reports as well as legislation enacted in September of last year that opens the management of OPTN to competition and dramatically improves services.

According to the senators’ August 2020 report, “Experts estimate that, by reforming government regulations and holding OPOs accountable, 28,000 more organs could be transplanted each year. Experts also project that improvements to the OPTN could save the federal government and taxpayers up to $40 billion over the next decade, particularly through reductions in dialysis and treatment of End Stage Renal Disease which accounts for $36 billion in Medicare spending each year.”

“Starting in February 2020,” Jim Townsend, director of the Levin Center said, “these four senators dedicated their time and talents to identifying and then correcting the problems in our nation’s organ donation system, and they did this on a strictly bipartisan basis with a commitment to finding the facts. Too often the headlines focus on what’s not working in Congress, but this award highlights the effort by these four senators to use Congress’ power to conduct oversight for the benefit of the American people.”

Jennifer Erickson, Senior Fellow with the Federation of American Scientists, noted, “These Senators have been dogged in their pursuit of underlying facts, and highly effective in communicating their findings to the public, all while avoiding the partisan rancor that has become endemic in American politics.”