Millions of dollars meant to prepare for public health threats went to things like office furniture removal, watchdog says
- HHS abused millions from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a new surveillance report found.
- BARDA is responsible for preparing for pandemics.
- The embezzlement of funds lasted ten years.
The Department of Health and Human Services has abused millions, some of which were dedicated to pandemic preparedness.
The HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response is believed to have misused the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority’s funds between fiscal 2010 and the end of 2019. This is evident from the investigations conducted by the HHS inspector general and overseen by the office of special advisers.
In a letter, Special Adviser Henry Kerner told President Joe Biden that he was “deeply concerned about the apparent misuse of millions of dollars in funds by ASPR dedicated to public health emergencies such as the one our country is currently facing with COVID-19 Pandemic is facing “. (Several people were in this role during the 10-year period.) According to the investigators, the whistleblower said they had heard that it was the “Bank of BARDA”. Funds were diverted towards things like removal of office furniture, salaries of other department employees, and legal services.
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While the report does not state how much was abused in total, the report states that the agency “disregarded” more than $ 500 million between 2007 and 2016. In addition, officials from the Assistant Secretary’s Office took approximately $ 25 million from BARDA’s research grant in 2019.
“All spending was routine,” Nicole Lurie, who headed ASPR under the Obama administration, told the Washington Post. She also told the Post that she was not interviewed as part of the investigation.
Lurie told The Post, “BARDA was part of ASPR and shared a mission and shared resources.” BARDA was founded by Congress in December 2006. The agency’s mission, according to HHS, is “to develop and procure the necessary medical countermeasures, including vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and non-pharmaceutical countermeasures, against a wide range of public health threats, whether natural or deliberate.”
While this report extends to the terms of office of former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, BARDA has been embroiled in several controversies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last May, BARDA director Rick Bright was fired, claiming he was demoted to a position with the National Institutes of Health for opposing the use of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug that Trump hailed as an unproven treatment for COVID-19 , have resisted.
Later studies found the drug was ineffective in treating COVID-19, and in June the Food and Drug Administration revoked the drug’s emergency approval.
Bright also filed a federal whistleblower complaint alleging that HHS had given high-level contracts to companies with political ties.
Bright later told Congress that it warned of the current COVID-19 pandemic and raised alarms in January about US readiness for an outbreak, but met with “indifference that turned into hostility” from HHS.
“And he said, ‘We are in the deep … The world is. And we have to act,'” recalled Bright. “And I took that to the highest level I could get at HHS and got no response.” “From that moment on, I knew we were going to have a crisis for our healthcare workers because we didn’t take action. We were already behind the ball. This was our last window of time to turn on this production to save the lives of these Health care workers and we didn’t act. ”
To date, more than 25.5 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 and over 429,000 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
HHS has not yet responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.