FOIA Update
February 8, 2023

Transmitted: February 6, 2023

To: Office of the Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services; National Institutes of Health

Full Letters: Letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (PDF)
Letter to the National Institutes of Health (PDF)

RE: FOIA Request for Information Relating to NIH/NIAID’s Failure to Enforce a Grant Provision Requiring EcoHealth Alliance to Submit Annual Progress Reports With Respect to Grant R01A/110964, Which Is Entitled Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence


On January 25, 2023, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-OIG) issued a report 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. The report raises questions about the origins of COVID-19 in the context of serious failures by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to enforce grant oversight requirements related to EcoHealth Alliance and its subrecipient, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

Among other things, HHS-OIG found that NIH/NIAID did not follow up in a timely manner when EcoHealth Alliance failed to submit an annual progress report related to Grant R01A/110964, which is entitled Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence. The annual progress report was due in September 2019, but it was not submitted until after NIH/NIAID expressly requested it almost two years later. As a consequence of the combined failures of NIH, NIAID, and EcoHealth Alliance, notification to government authorities that a virus involved in the research had experienced “enhanced growth” was delayed until well into the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such enhanced growth was a trigger for a special grant provision that required EcoHealth Alliance to immediately notify its NIAID liaison, and was grounds for a secondary review to determine whether the grant’s research aims should be re-evaluated and/or new biosafety measures should be implemented.

As grave as this conclusion sounds—considering the timing and location of the enhanced growth: 2019 and WIV—NIH nevertheless insisted to HHS-OIG that it did not believe that either experiment associated with the enhanced growth is associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, HHS-OIG pointed out that “scientific documentation” that NIH explicitly sought from EcoHealth Alliance—and more particularly its subrecipient, WIV—in order to gain insights into the nature of the experiments that WIV performed during the time in question were not made available to NIH.

To gain further insight into the cumulative failures of NIH, NIAID, and EcoHealth Alliance, Empower Oversight filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with HHS-OIG (pdf) and the NIH (pdf). Empower Oversight is requesting comprehensive communications regarding the grant, along with communications between Dr. Anthony Fauci and Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance in the middle of 2019, when the enhanced growth notification should have been made.

“Our federal government should not be keeping Americans in the dark on key questions related to COVID-19. More serious investigations into the matter are needed to shed light on the NIH and NIAID’s failures and learn to what extent these failures impaired earlier warning and understanding of the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jason Foster, Founder and President of Empower Oversight.

Empower Oversight sued the NIH for documents on its deletion of COVID-19 genetic data at the height of the pandemic, and Empower Oversight released a 23-page report on the documents produced by the NIH. The judge in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the NIH kept too many documents under seal, ordering their release to Empower Oversight as requested, including the names of a Chinese researcher and NIH official involved in the matter. In June of last year, Empower Oversight delivered an updated crowdsourced COVID-19 origins tracker to Congress.

If you have first-hand information you’d like to disclose to assist Empower Oversight with these inquiries, please contact us confidentially here.