You would have to be blind as a bat to be unable to see why it might not be a good idea for the U.S. government to subsidize dangerous research on coronaviruses from bats in an unsafe lab in Wuhan, China. But that is exactly what the U.S. National Institutes for Health (NIH) did and could do in the future.
Researchers crawled through caves, collecting specimens of bat guano to see if it contained coronaviruses that might be capable of infecting humans and make them sick. That study conducted by the U.S.-based EcoHealth Alliance and China’s state-run Wuhan Institute for Virology (WIV) was funded by NIH and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In an entry entitled “Serological Evidence of Bat SARS-Related Coronavirus Infection in Humans, China,” the researchers reported “our study provides the first serological evidence of likely human infection by bat” coronaviruses in 2018.
At the same time the researchers were writing up their work with WIV, U.S. embassy officials who visited the institute were writing up their observations about what was going on at the lab. Two official warnings were sent back to Washington that the facility had “serious” safety problems and it was conducting risky studies on dangerous coronaviruses from bats that could be transmitted to humans.
While the jury is still out on whether the WIV lab is the source of the coronavirus outbreak, the timeline of events is incredibly compelling. According to White Coat Waste Project, a government watchdog group that has been tracking this story from the beginning found that NIH provided nearly $15 million to EcoHealth Alliance, which has been collaborating with and sending U.S. taxpayer dollars to WIV. Nearly $50 million more has flowed to the group from other federal agencies and departments in recent years.
Holy budget busters, Batman! That’s a lot of money for a group outsourcing research dollars to communist China. But wait, there’s more!
EcoHealth, the company that funneled money to the WIV, which conducted hazardous coronavirus studies, received a $750,000 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, the program that provided loans to businesses during the COVID-19 lockdowns. It’s conceivable that EcoHealth used taxpayer dollars to fund dangerous scientific experiments in China, which kicked off a global pandemic, then received taxpayer aid to keep their business afloat during the very pandemic they may have started.
This all raises so many questions, starting with why were we funding this in the first place?
Justin Goodman, vice president of White Coat Waste, was able to conclude what many in our government could not, that “shipping millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the WIV lab is batsh-t crazy and a recipe for disaster.” While these researchers may like spending your tax dollars crawling through caves, taxpayers shouldn’t have to play a game of hide-and-seek to find the cost of projects paid for with their tax dollars, especially since federal law requires the price to be posted for the public.
In fact, a federal law Congress has renewed annually for more than 30 years, called the Stevens amendment, requires that every project funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which includes NIH, disclose those very details. Shockingly, most government agencies aren’t complying.
A Government Accountability Report (GAO) found that most HHS and Department of Education divisions were non-compliant. These agencies aren’t even bothering to try. It’s not their money. It’s your money.
At least one senator has had enough. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa is demanding an investigation by the HHS inspector general to find out why the department has blatantly, and repeatedly violated federal law. In her letter to the IG, Ernst notes Congress must “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.”
In addition to asking for an investigation into these agencies, Ernst, along with Sens. Rand Paul and James Lankford, introduced the COST Act, a bill that would permanently codify the Stevens amendment, apply the requirements to every federal department, and provide an enforcement mechanism for any agency that’s non-compliant.
“Taxpayers … across the nation, have a right to know exactly how their hard-earned dollars are being spent,” asserts Ernst. At least a handful of her colleagues agree. Turnabout is fair play. The COST Act makes government agencies accountable to you. It should be, as you’re accountable to government.
Every year on April 15 you’re expected to tell the federal government how much you’ve earned in the last year. It’s been that way since 1955. If you don’t file on April 15 and you owe the government money, you owe them interest too. So why shouldn’t the government, in a similar way, be required to account for how it spends your money?