The Chinese virology lab that some analysts blame for igniting the coronavirus pandemic has been stripped of its U.S. funding, but Sen. Joni Ernst said it has not been blacklisted to make sure it can’t get federal money in the future.
The Iowa Republican said it’s time to change that.
In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, she pointed out that his department’s inspector general has suggested debarment, and she wondered why officials are dragging their feet.
“These mad scientists should never be permitted to get their hands on bats or taxpayer dollars ever again,” Ms. Ernst said Tuesday in a statement, in which she revealed her push to get the Wuhan Institute of Virology on the blacklist.
She also said the government should try to get back some of the misspent money that flowed to the lab via the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that Ms. Ernst labeled a “shady organization.”
The National Institutes of Health, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, shipped nearly $8 million to EcoHealth from 2014 to 2021. Some of that money wound up at the Wuhan lab.
HHS’ inspector general reported late last month that EcoHealth violated the rules governing the money and should have formally reported to higher-ups when it realized the Wuhan lab’s experiments were crossing risky lines.
The audit did not say the lab was responsible for the spread of the coronavirus or how American taxpayer money was used. Indeed, one of its findings is that EcoHealth and the Wuhan lab have been unable to say exactly what happened at the lab, since China has now cut off communications about the events.
Ms. Ernst said HHS should ask EcoHealth to repay the tax dollars misspent on unallowable costs.
And she said it’s time to blacklist the lab “to ensure that not another penny from taxpayers is ever sent to China’s state-run Wuhan Institute of Virology by NIH or any other component or grantee of HHS.”
She asked Mr. Becerra to do it, but she’s also written legislation that would enshrine a ban into law.
The Washington Times has reached out to HHS for comment on the senator’s call for action.
Ms. Ernst had prodded the inspector general to conduct the audit of EcoHealth and the money paid to the Wuhan lab.
NIH awarded EcoHealth in 2014 with a five-year grant to explore the risks from bat coronaviruses. EcoHealth then shipped some of the money to the Wuhan lab.
The grant was renewed but later halted as the pandemic set in.
The grant had guardrails with reporting requirements to try to prevent a runaway virus.
The inspector general found that when the research began to trigger some of those guardrails, EcoHealth did not properly flag the matter for NIH.
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