U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) along with Senators Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) today introduced legislation to establish an Office of Inspector General within the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
This comes as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS OIG) released findings from their recent audit documenting yet another failure by NIH to properly monitor the use of federal grant funding by grantees and subgrantees. In this case, the NIH continued to fund grants to EcoHealth Alliance despite the grantee’s failure to submit necessary information documenting the use of funds and scientific activities of its foreign subgrantee, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, between 2019 and 2021.
“As the nation’s leading medical research agency, the NIH oversees thousands of researchers and institutes, and they managed a $45.1 billion budget last year,” said Senator Blackburn. “However, they have been far from transparent, covering up grants for gain-of-function (GoF) research in Wuhan and refusing to release critical data regarding allegations of millions in royalty fees paid to in-house scientists. The American people deserve to know that their tax dollars are being spent responsibly and to advance scientific research. Creating an independent Inspector General within the NIH will help restore much-needed accountability to the agency.”
“The NIH is suffering a lack of confidence by the American people,” said Senator Hagerty. “An independent Inspector General will bring much-needed accountability and put an end to the lack of transparency regarding how American tax dollars are being used at our nation’s primary research agency.”
“NIH continues to act as an autonomous government agency and forego policies that strictly regulates the grant award process,” said Senator Roger Marshall, M.D. “The agency’s lack of grant oversight and management jeopardizes the integrity of federally-funded research and leaves Americans vulnerable to dangerous pathogen outbreaks from lab accidents. With an annual budget of $47.5 billion, we need expert investigators and auditors in a stand-alone IG office solely dedicated to overseeing this agency to ensure they are held accountable to the American people and to restore the public’s trust in the integrity of health officials to keep us safe.”
“The pandemic highlighted the great need for transparency in our government’s institutions. The National Institutes of Health, where Dr. Fauci worked, is no exception,” said Senator Tuberville. “Americans deserve to have an independent oversight arm within the NIH to help ensure the agency is responsibly using our taxpayer dollars and acting in the interest of all Americans.”
- Each year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards billions of taxpayer dollars, provided by Congress, to support biomedical research.
- In fiscal year 2022 alone, NIH awarded over 80 percent of their $45 billion budget to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 research institutions.
- Various investigations carried out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS OIG) have uncovered a troubling pattern of failure by the NIH to address OIG’s findings and implement effective internal processes to ensure that grantees’ use of federal grant funds is properly monitored, and NIH-funded research is protected from undue foreign influence.
- The HHS OIG budget is approximately $400 million, the majority of which is spent pursuing Medicare and Medicaid fraud cases. In fact, in FY 2021 HHS OIG only allocated 2% of its budget to NIH oversight.
- As the world’s largest public funder of biomedical research, it is critical to ensure that NIH has the tools necessary to conduct effective oversight and ensure compliance among entities receiving federal grant funds.
- Creating a NIH-OIG will ensure transparency at our nation’s primary medical research agency.
A copy of the bill can be found here.