Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration has declined this week to provide many details about the city’s relationship with Philly Fighting COVID, the scandal-plagued vaccine distribution group, citing the need to protect an inspector general investigation the administration itself requested.

But there’s no legal requirement that officials refrain from commenting during that probe, and Inspector General Alexander DeSantis said he hasn’t asked the city to keep quiet.

“I wasn’t aware of that,” DeSantis said Thursday when asked about the administration citing his investigation in declining to answer questions from members of City Council and journalists. ”I have not requested or given any guidance about who may comment on this investigation.”

The tightening flow of information to the public comes before a Friday Council hearing in which top administration officials will be grilled by lawmakers over how Philly Fighting COVID, a start-up run by a self-described “group of college kids,” was selected to run the city’s first mass vaccination clinic.

The city cut ties with the group late last month after revelations about the group’s privacy policy, which could have allowed it to sell personal data through a previously undisclosed for-profit arm. The debacle slowed vaccination progress in Philadelphia and garnered embarrassing national headlines.

While Friday’s hearing will likely be high on political theater, it may be low on new revelations. Responding to councilmembers’ written questions ahead of the hearing, the administration repeatedly wrote, “Due to the ongoing OIG investigation we are unable to provide further details.”

» READ MORE: The city trusted a group of ‘college kids’ to lead its vaccine rollout. But Philly Fighting COVID was full of red flags from the start.

The administration cited the investigation in declining a Council request for copies of contracts or agreements with Philly Fighting COVID, an inquiry about the group’s leader taking vaccines home, and the following question from a lawmaker: “Can you provide any information the Health Department used to properly vet the organization and their capability to safely provide services?”

Councilmember Cindy Bass, who chairs the Public Health and Human Services Committee that will hold Friday’s hearing, said she found the city’s lack of transparency “outrageous.”

“There is no legal reason,” Bass said. “They can provide information to the inspector general’s office, and they can provide it to the citizens.”

Kenney spokesperson Deana Gamble rejected the notion that the city hasn’t been forthcoming, noting that the mayor and Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley both answered questions at a Monday news conference.

“The Administration has and will continue to accept many, many questions on the issues related to Philly Fighting COVID,” Gamble said. “However, many questions will remain unanswered until the Inspector General’s review is complete. We look forward to sharing that report publicly when complete, and will continue to answer what questions we can.”

» READ MORE: Next up in the Philly Fighting COVID debacle: A political fight in City Hall

The public relations strategy of citing an “ongoing investigation” when declining to comment is a common one, used by everyone from defendants in common criminal cases to American presidents as a way to avoid transparency when under scrutiny.

But circumstances under which officials are actually prohibited from commenting are rare. The most common is when an official is part of the investigating authority itself. Other times, like with many probes by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, investigators require people contacted during an inquiry to refrain from disclosing any information they learn as a result.

Neither is the case now. Former Inspector General Amy Kurland said she’s unaware of any law that would prevent the city from publicly discussing the subject of an inspector general investigation.

Gamble said the city is declining to answer some questions to protect the investigation.

“There are many unknowns to PFC and its vaccine operations. This is a part of the IG’s investigation,” she said. “The City will not speculate on these unknowns as such responses could potentially impact/compromise the IG’s investigation and public report.”

Farley requested the investigation after records obtained by The Inquirer revealed a deputy health commissioner gave PFC an advantage in a city bidding process. That official, Caroline Johnson, resigned Saturday.

During the city’s weekly news conference on the pandemic last week, most of the questions focused on Philly Fighting COVID. But city officials prohibited questions on the matter at the coronavirus news conference this week.

Bass this week took the unusual step of asking Kenney himself to testify at Friday’s hearing. He declined but said in a Tuesday letter that he shares Bass’ desire to “ensure all questions are answered in an expeditious manner.” Several top administration officials, including chief of staff Jim Engler, Managing Director Tumar Alexander, and Farley will testify.

”It is my intention to share all information possible related to the city’s work with the organization Philly Fighting COVID, work that we know has negatively impacted our efforts to build public trust,” Kenney said.

Patrick Christmas, policy director for the Philadelphia good-government group Committee of Seventy, said the city should answer all questions about the Philly Fighting COVID ordeal to ensure it can regain public trust in the vaccination process.

“No one is going to enjoy unpacking their own mistake,” Christmas said. “But when public trust is of paramount importance, an examination of the chronology of these events is warranted, especially if it will help inform us in what we need to do going forward.”