WASHINGTON — Empower Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-OIG – pdf) requesting documents and communications relating to compliance with and enforcement of legal requirements applicable to EcoHealth Alliance’s grant that was used to study bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). This filing comes a week after Empower Oversight filed a FOIA with the HHS-OIG concerning the department’s failure to adequately monitor the same EcoHealth Alliance grant.
Earlier this year, HHG-OIG issued an audit about EcoHealth Alliance’s grant entitled The National Institutes of Health and EcoHealth Alliance Did Not Effectively Monitor Awards and Subawards, Resulting in Missed Opportunities to Oversee Research and Other Deficiencies. This report demonstrated that not only did EcoHealth Alliance blatantly fail to comply with several legal requirements applicable to its grant, but the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) also failed to enforce those same requirements.
All HHS grants are subject to the agency’s Grants Policy Administration Manual (GPAM), which establishes minimum policy requirements for the administration of grants throughout their use. GPAM requires HHS to monitor, and document the monitoring of, the adequacy of their grant recipients’ performance and compliance. Additionally, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements state that each grantee must have at least one audit conducted per year.
HHS-OIG’s report found that for multiple years, EcoHealth failed to report sub-recipient information, including details about funds that went to WIV. NIH was informed that EcoHealth wasn’t in compliance with the reporting requirements in July 2020. However, NIH and NIAID should have discovered the issue much earlier, as EcoHealth’s annual financial statements for 2016 – 2019 failed to include the proper amount of subawards funded under NIAID’s requisite programs. Of all 11 subaward agreements created by EcoHealth, HHS-OIG’s report found that all lacked at least 1 of the 13 data elements required by the applicable HHS regulation.
To obtain further information about these findings, Empower Oversight is requesting all communications and documents supporting HHS-OIG’s conclusion that procedures for monitoring EcoHealth Alliance’s grant compliance failed on almost every level. Also included in this FOIA request are requests for documents demonstrating attempts at oversight of the grant made to EcoHealth Alliance between 2016 and 2019.
“Grants from federal agencies often are subject to strict oversight and monitoring in order to ensure all federal guidelines are followed. In the case of EcoHealth Alliance’s grant from NIH, these guidelines were treated as suggestions instead of requirements. Year after year, EcoHealth Alliance failed to adequately follow the stringent rules behind their grant. The public deserves transparency on this matter in order to understand how the federal government failed to police the bat coronavirus research conducted by EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” said Tristan Leavitt, President of Empower Oversight.
Last month, Empower Oversight filed two separate FOIA requests with HHS-OIG and NIH requesting documents concerning the EcoHealth Alliance grant, along with any communications between Dr. Anthony Fauci and Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance in 2019, when the federal government should have been notified about an enhanced growth notification from EcoHealth Alliance.
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