US officials have misused a fund meant for vaccine research and have paid for unrelated expenses since at least 2010, the US Office of Special Counsel alleged yesterday, in letters to President Biden and Congress.
The Department of Health and Human Services had been appropriated millions of dollars for vaccine research and emergency preparedness for public health threats. However, the funds were spent on administrative expenses, unrelated salaries, legal services, and office furniture removal.
HS Report Alleges Misuse Of Millions Of Dollars Of Vaccine
The misuse was reported to the Office of Special Counsel by a whistleblower, which led to an investigation by the HHS’s Office of Inspector General. The report by the office released Wednesday claimed many of the allegations were true.
Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said in a press release, referring to the Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, that he was very much concerned about ASPR’s misuse of millions of dollars in funding that was meant for public health emergencies like the one the country is currently facing.
He added that he urged Congress and HHS to take immediate actions to ensure that the funding for public health emergencies is no longer be used for unrelated expenses.
The report said the ASPR, which was under the HHS, misused funds meant for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). In the process, the ASPR had violated federal law.
The misuse of funds was common knowledge in the agency and internally known as the “Bank of BARDA,” according to investigators.
The report does not go into details such as the amount misappropriated but claims there was evidence that as recently as in 2019, ASPR, which exercised oversight of BARDA, had “improperly” taken about $25 million from the biomedical agency. Further, ASPR was unable to account for over $517 million in administrative expenses for the period 2007 to 2016.
The findings come as the US responds to the coronavirus pandemic, in which ASPR and BARDA have played a role in funding the research into COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
Investigators allege that throughout the Obama administration, BARDA’s funds were raided for making salary payments to people who worked elsewhere, amounting to at least $897,491.
Following the report, HHS has initiated an internal review and hired an accounting firm to conduct an audit of the use of BARDA’s funding.
Meanwhile, Nicole Lurie, who headed ASPR under the Obama administration, told The Washington Post that all expenditures were done in a routine way, adding that she was not interviewed as part of the investigation.
BARDA, a small agency, had been entrusted with substantial purchasing power and played a pivotal role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Though the agency has been faulted for failures in the report, BARDA has been instrumental in the development of at least two vaccines in record time. The effort initiated under President Donald Trump was named Warp Speed.
Meanwhile, Operation Warp Speed chief scientific adviser Moncef Slaoui submitted his resignation earlier this month at the incoming Biden administration’s request, CNN reported citing a source in the know of the situation.
Slaoui, in an appearance on CNBC, claimed that Operation Warp Speed has been successful in getting authorization for two vaccines for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration. He added he always intended to return to private life once that was achieved. He went on to add that he had decided to prolong his tenure so as to support the new team.
He said he was very supportive of the upcoming administration and of the operation and its mission. He added that he would do everything he could to help them succeed.