Sen. Ernst Wants HHS Investigation into Funding Going to Wuhan Institute of Virology

Posted: Mar 17, 2021 3:00 PM
Sen. Ernst Wants HHS Investigation into Funding Going to Wuhan Institute of Virology

Source: Caroline Brehman/Pool Photo via AP

It's Sunshine Week, meaning that it's time to expose some of the more egregious uses of American taxpayer dollars. For instance, do we really need to be funding Princeton's research to lock monkeys in cages to hear them say, "Will you marry me?" You can read more about that nonsense here.

But more seriously, American dollars have reportedly subsidized research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. For more than a decade, Eco Health Alliance has been sending teams to China to trap bats, collect samples of their blood, saliva and feces, and check those samples for new coronaviruses, as NPR reported last year. The White Coat Waste Project helped uncover the scandal. As vice president Justin Goodman put it, we were funding "treacherous research in China."

"We really need to get to the bottom of that," Senator Joni Ernst said. "The American people really deserve answers...We don't need to be sending dollars to communist China." 

And yet, up until now, the HHS "is not being transparent," Sen. Ernst said on a call with reporters on Wednesday. She sent a letter to the agency telling them that it's failing to comply with the Stevens Amendment, which requires all HHS grant and cooperative agreement recipients to acknowledge federal funding when publicly communicating projects or programs funded through the HHS annual appropriation, as explained on Ernst is also demanding an investigation.

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.”        

In addition, Ernst is 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. Townhall asked the senator if she's received any bipartisan support thus far. She said unfortunately no, but she has high hopes that her friend Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) will join the effort.

"At every turn, the organization has tried to obscure its relationship with the government," Goodman said. This has "serious implications for national security and global health."