WASHINGTON — Empower Oversight submitted a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS – pdf) documenting the agency’s failure to provide substantive answers to a FOIA request from more than a year-and-a-half ago.
On December 9, 2021, Empower Oversight filed a FOIA request with the DHS regarding the agency’s contract and subsequent grant proposals awarded to EcoHealth Alliance. It’s been widely reported that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) through a grant to EcoHealth Alliance and Peter Daszak. These grants were provided in full to EcoHealth Alliance, which used some of the grant money to pay the WIV for their dangerous viral research.
Empower Oversight’s original FOIA request sought communications regarding the DHS grant called “Ground Truth” to EcoHealth Alliance, along with all communications regarding the submission of contract or grant proposals from, or awards of DHS contracts or grants to, EcoHealth Alliance.
Since then, Empower Oversight sent an email on April 7, 2022 to DHS requesting an update, but the group didn’t receive any response until May 15, 2023. Maura Busch of the DHS Privacy Office said the agency is transitioning to a new FOIA system but had recovered some emails that may be responsive to the original request, but they also may contain information that would be exempt under FOIA. DHS also mentioned the identification of a second contract with EcoHealth Alliance.
On May 30, 2023, Empower Oversight asked Busch if narrowing the emails with search terms would facilitate the process. Busch responded by asking if Empower Oversight would be interested in the contract and appeared to be unwilling to release any of the emails. That same day, Empower Oversight asked if it was the position of the DHS that it would rather process all of the emails than conduct a text search. There has been no reply to Empower Oversight at this time.
“All grants and awards from federal agencies to groups like EcoHealth Alliance are subject to the highest level of oversight to make sure any and all federal guidelines are adhered to. We’ve seen in this fight for documents from the DHS that EcoHealth Alliance’s grants often skirted these guidelines, and the lack of transparency from the agency is concerning. The COVID-19 pandemic showed that EcoHealth Alliance consistently failed to follow the rules on the federal government grants set forth by the DHS. If this latest filing doesn’t move the needle within the HHS, Empower Oversight may have to consider taking legal action,” said Tristan Leavitt, President of Empower Oversight.
In this latest letter, Empower Oversight is requesting both DHS contracts with EcoHealth Alliance, along with descriptions of the search and methods used to locate documents responsive to the original FOIA request and a timeline for processing the responsive records.
If you have first-hand information you’d like to disclose to assist Empower Oversight with these inquiries, please contact us confidentially here.