As Bureaucrats Ignore Federal Transparency Requirements, Ernst Calls on HHS Inspector General to Investigate
A review found that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) failed to disclose taxpayer funding sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology—despite safety warnings regarding the risky studies on coronaviruses being conducted there.
Mar 16 2021
WASHINGTON—During Sunshine Week, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is shedding light on years of bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ignoring federal cost transparency requirements and calling on the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate.
Just two years before the COVID-19 outbreak began in the vicinity of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was involved in a U.S. taxpayer funded study involving bat coronaviruses that U.S. officials warned had safety concerns, including the potential to infect humans. The amount of U.S. tax dollars used to fund this research was not disclosed to the public, and HHS was failing to comply with the law. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident as other HHS projects fail to disclose the cost to taxpayers.
In a letter to the department’s inspector general, Ernst writes, “First, the Stevens Amendment guarantees that hard working taxpayers can see how their dollars are being spent and decide for themselves whether or not the price is right. Transparency is also vitally important for Congress to properly conduct oversight and ensure tax dollars are being spent wisely and as intended. As part of that responsibility, it became clear recipients of funds from the department were not complying with this law. As an example, NIH has provided nearly $15 million to EcoHealth Alliance, a group that has been collaborating with and sending U.S. taxpayer dollars to China’s state-run Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). A review of EcoHealth Alliance’s press releases and published studies over the past several years demonstrates a total disregard for the Stevens Amendment requirements…I would, therefore, request the Office of the Inspector General conduct a thorough review of enforcement and compliance.”
Building on her letter—and to continue her efforts to promote government transparency during Sunshine Week—Ernst is also reintroducing her Cost Openness and Spending Transparency (COST) Act, which requires every project supported with federal funds to include a price tag with its cost to taxpayers.
This is currently required of all recipients of federal money provided by the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education, and related agencies. The mandate is annually renewed within the appropriations act funding those departments and agencies. The COST Act would apply these disclosure requirements to all federal departments and programs.
The current law, however, is being largely ignored by both the recipients of taxpayer dollars and the government agencies providing the funding. For more than 30 years, Congress has renewed this provision in some form annually in appropriations bills. It is referred to as the Stevens Amendment after its author, then-Senator Ted Stevens, who first successfully offered it as an amendment to a Fiscal Year 1989 spending bill.
To guarantee compliance, Ernst’s COST Act provides authority to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to withhold a portion of a grant from a recipient that does not disclose the costs, as required, until it does.