The US Department of Health building in Washington.
Caroline Brehman | CQ Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Federal Ministry of Health and Human Services officials raided funds from a little-known agency dedicated to vaccine research and emergency preparedness, and spent millions moving furniture and paying unrelated salaries, according to a new report by a federal guard.
An office within HHS overseeing the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA) raised more than $ 500 million, according to a new report from the HHS Inspector General’s Office used for administrative expenses between 2007 and 2016 ” not taken into account “investigation arm of the agency. The HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has put so much money into its own coffers from BARDA, which oversees the country’s vaccination programs, “that there was a name for it within the agency:” Bank of BARDA, “Special Adviser Henry J. Kerner said in a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
As recently as 2019, federal on-call officials inappropriately took up $ 25 million of research funding from the small agency, the investigation found. The money was intended to fund emergency preparedness initiatives for public health threats such as Ebola, Zika and Covid-19.
The report does not report the total amount of misappropriated funds, but the investigation describes widespread misuse of funds that includes both the Trump and Obama administrations. The research also provides insights into factors that may have poorly prepared a little-known but powerful biomedical research agency to respond effectively to the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I am deeply concerned about the (apparent) misuse of millions of dollars in funding dedicated to public health emergencies as our country is currently facing the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kerner said in a statement . “Equally worrying is how widespread and well-known the practice has appeared to be for nearly a decade, even dubbed the ‘Bank of BARDA’.”
Kerner called BARDA “a slush fund for unrelated spending” and called on Congress and HHS to “take immediate action” to streamline spending. The report comes to the conclusion that federal officials at ASPR “violated the purpose law” and “possibly violated the anti-deficiency law”.
HHS launched its own internal review of the agency’s use of funds from 2015 to 2019 to identify possible violations of the Antideficiency Act, according to the Office of Special Counsel. HHS has also tapped an undisclosed external accounting firm to look into the agency’s use of some funds, the watchdog said.
BARDA was brought into the national spotlight in May when then-director Rick Bright was abruptly removed from his position as the agency was at the center of the nation’s response to the pandemic. Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that he was ostracized for resisting pressure to recommend hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, as a Covid-19 treatment, despite no data showing its effectiveness.
Former President Donald Trump hailed the drug as a treatment for the disease and pressured the Food and Drug Administration to get an emergency approval. Research later revealed that the drug was of no benefit and could even increase the risk of death in Covid-19 patients. The FDA later revoked its emergency approval for the drug.