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HHS Strips EcoHealth Alliance Of Federal Funds Over Reckless Coronavirus Research


On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formally suspended federal funding for EcoHealth Alliance and recommended it face debarment for its lack of transparency and reckless handling of coronavirus-related research in Wuhan, China. With U.S. taxpayer dollars five years ago and earlier, EcoHealth Alliance funded Chinese research into worsening viruses linked to the Covid-19 outbreak, according to federal reports and independent reporting.

In a letter released Wednesday, Henrietta Brisbon, HHS’s suspension and debarment official, informed EcoHealth President Peter Daszak that the federal government is suspending funds to EcoHealth and proposing the organization be debarred “from participating in United States Federal Government procurement and nonprocurement programs.” The suspension and debarment recommendation took effect on Tuesday.

“I have determined that there is adequate evidence to document that [EcoHealth Alliance] has not been compliant with federal regulations and grant terms and conditions, which affects EHA’s present responsibility,” Brisbon wrote in the agency’s action referral against EHA.

As Helen Raleigh reported at The Federalist, EcoHealth Alliance is a nongovernmental organization that from 2014-2020, sent “more than half a million dollars’ worth of U.S. government grants, including those from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with Anthony Fauci’s approval, to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to conduct gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses.” While Trump’s administration axed taxpayer funds for EcoHealth Alliance in 2020, the group has received federal grants since Joe Biden was sworn into office.

In its referral, HHS cited “adequate evidence” documenting what the agency contended “provides cause” for EcoHealth’s funding suspension and potential debarment. Among the examples included are EHA’s alleged failure “to adequately monitor the virus growth in [the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s] experiments” and “notify the [National Institute of Health] that the WIV viruses appeared to grow beyond permissible thresholds under the grant’s terms and conditions.” The agency also cited the organization’s failure to forfeit information requested by the federal government and its delay in submitting a required progress report on time.

These allegations were further explored in a report issued by House Republicans on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic earlier this month. As laid out in the analysis, federal grant recipients such as EcoHealth must submit progress reports to their funding agency. These records provide the designated department with “updates on the progress of the work funded by the grant and any anticipated changes in the research approach or direction going into the next funding year.”

According to the GOP report and now HHS, EcoHealth submitted its year five progress report to NIH on Aug. 3, 2021 — nearly two years after the required Sept. 30, 2019, deadline. While testifying before Congress earlier this month, Daszak claimed that EcoHealth attempted to submit the required report but was unable to do so because it got “locked out” of the NIH system. As noted in the report, however, a forensic audit conducted by NIH “could not verify the claim.”

Daszak contended that his team reached out to the agency’s tech support division via phone but received no response and did not bother contacting the “relevant grant officer” at NIAID about the matter. As noted in the report, these claims appear to contradict actions Daszak took when submitting previous progress reports. In those cases, he would send an email to the grant officer after uploading such analyses to the NIH system.

Brisbon informed Daszak on Tuesday that “[d]ebarment is generally for a period not to exceed three years” but added that she “may impose debarment for a longer period or shorter period as the circumstances warrant.” If deemed punishable, EcoHealth’s length of debarment “will be based on the seriousness of the cause for debarment” and would not be announced until after such a penalty is imposed, according to Brisbon.

“EcoHealth Alliance and Dr. Peter Daszak should never again receive a single penny from the U.S. taxpayer,” Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “…EcoHealth’s immediate funding suspension and future debarment is not only a victory for the U.S. taxpayer, but also for American national security and the safety of citizens worldwide.”

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