The pandemic highlighted the great need for transparency in our government’s institutions. The National Institutes of Health, where Dr. Fauci worked, is no exception.”
“The dereliction of oversight duty at the NIH is not only unacceptable, it’s dangerous… Congress needs to demand transparency and oversight from all of our public health officials.”
WASHINGTON — Following months of work to demand transparency from officials, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) cosponsored two bills this week to better account for the use of taxpayer dollars spent on potentially-dangerous public health programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During his first two years in the Senate, Tuberville led the charge for reform at the NIH and other public health agencies as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The two bills introduced this week are a continuation of Senator Tuberville’s work to make agencies like the NIH and the Centers forDisease Control (CDC) more accountable for their spending and the mistakes made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, Senator Tuberville joined several of his colleagues in introducing a bill that requires the NIH to create an Office of Inspector General to properly monitor the use of federal grant funding by grantees and subgrantees, which the agency has failed to do in the past.
“The pandemic highlighted the great need for transparency in our government’s institutions. The National Institutes of Health, where Dr. Fauci worked, is no exception,” said Senator Tuberville. “Americans deserve to have an independent oversight arm within the NIH to help ensure the agency is responsibly using our taxpayer dollars and acting in the interest of all Americans.”
Senator Tuberville also sponsored the Viral Gain-of-Function Research Moratorium Act this week, which places a moratorium on all federal research grants involving risky gain-of-function research on potential pandemic pathogens. A new report from a federal watchdog agency recently concluded that the NIH failed to meet key elements of its mandated oversight program responsibility.
“The dereliction of oversight duty at the NIH is not only unacceptable, it’s dangerous,” said Senator Tuberville. “The United States should not spend another penny of taxpayer funds on unaccountable gain-of-function research programs that have proven to be a risk to public health. Congress needs to demand transparency and oversight from all of our public health officials, especially for the billions of dollars sent to their agencies over the past few years.”
In 2021, to make the agency more accountable to the American people, Senator Tuberville successfully championed legislation making the director of the CDC a Senate-confirmed position. In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Senator Tuberville reiterated his calls for public health reform while urging the new Congress to learn from the dangerous consequences of COVID-19 lockdowns and commit to protecting freedom in every circumstance.
More information on both pieces of legislation cosponsored by Senator Tuberville this week can be found below.
Bill To Create NIH Office Of Inspector General
Each year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards billions of taxpayer dollars, provided by Congress, to support biomedical research. In fiscal year 2022 alone, NIH awarded more than 80 percent of their $45 billion budget to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 research institutions.
Various investigations carried out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS OIG) have uncovered a troubling pattern of failure by the NIH to address OIG’s findings and implement effective internal processes to ensure that grantees’ use of federal grant funds is properly monitored, and NIH-funded research is protected from undue foreign influence.
The HHS OIG budget is approximately $400 million, the majority of which is spent pursuing Medicare and Medicaid fraud cases. In fact, in FY 2021 HHS OIG only allocated 2% of its budget to NIH oversight.
As the world’s largest public funder of biomedical research, it is critical to ensure that NIH has the tools necessary to conduct effective oversight and ensure compliance among entities receiving federal grant funds.
Creating a NIH-OIG will ensure transparency at our nation’s primary medical research agency.
Viral Gain-of-Function Research Moratorium Act
The Viral Gain-of-Function Research Moratorium Act is in response to congressional inquiries and various investigations revealing national security concerns about NIH authorizing dangerous research that may have contributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General released a report finding NIH failed to meet federal requirements for overseeing EcoHealth Alliance awards and subawards. Specifically, the policing agency responsible for oversight of HHS reviewed 150 EcoHealth Alliance transactions totaling nearly $2.6 million and missed opportunities to properly review the research and take timely corrective actions to mitigate risks that can threaten public health. The audit builds on other work from another federal watchdog agency, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GA). Last week, the GAO released a report finding that the HHS does not fully meet the key elements of effective oversight and allows for subjective and potentially inconsistent interpretations of the requirement — leaving HHS without assurance the department is reviewing all necessary research proposals.
The NIH has historically applied a broad and inconsistent definition of gain-of-function (GoF) research that could be applied uniquely to allow controversial experiments to forego review. GoF is a research process that aims to genetically alter a virus or organism to gain (or lose) function on its transmissibility or pathogenicity. However, viral GoF on infectious diseases places great risk to global health as it directly aims to alter viruses deadly to people.
Recognizing the threat of GoF research and biosecurity issues in lab facilities, White House officials placed a moratorium on this work in 2014. However, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases continued funding GoF research under exceptions to the moratorium. In 2017 — with key cabinet appointments vacant or pending Senate confirmation — NIH successfully advocated for lifting the moratorium.
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.