E&C Oversight Subcommittee Tackles COVID-19
Three years on, our nation continues to reel from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than one million Americans have died as a result of the pandemic. Among those were over 23,000 Virginians, including State Senator Ben Chafin of Lebanon, Virginia, and my friend and former Emory and Henry roommate Wally Nelson. We have all lost friends, loved ones, and acquaintances. Congress must do all it can to understand this outbreak and better prepare for similar events in the future.
Last year, I made a promise that if named Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of Energy and Commerce, it would be a priority of mine to investigate all aspects of COVID-19.
That’s exactly what I’ve done. Since the start of this Congress, we’ve already held two Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearings on COVID-19.
Our first Oversight Subcommittee hearing explored the importance of investigating the origins of potential pandemics pathogens so we can be better prepared moving forward.
Questions surrounding COVID’s origins remain. The initial explanation given for the COVID-19 outbreak was a spillover infection, with the virus transferring from bats to humans in the Wuhan region of China.
I believe there has since been substantial circumstantial evidence that favors COVID-19 emerging due to a lab-related incident.
Not knowing its true origins hinders our ability to prepare for similar pandemics in the future. Getting answers to the root cause should allow us to develop countermeasures.
In June 2021, I and the other Republican members of the Energy & Commerce Committee requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) analyze what is needed to better respond to the origins of future potential pandemic pathogens.
One of the big takeaways of the hearing, was the need for investigators to have better access to samples from early cases in order to be effective in determining the pandemic’s origin. No matter the origin of COVID-19, it started in China, and they hid from the world for months that they had a serious problem. That delay cost lives.
During our second hearing we reviewed federal actions – and inactions – in responding to the pandemic, specifically by the National Institute of Health (NIH), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).
I, along with now-Chairs Rodgers and Guthrie, have sent the NIH 14 letters requesting information, ranging in date from March 18, 2021, to November 30, 2022, and most have gone completely unanswered. These letters requested answers from the NIH regarding their lack of compliance and oversight into grant awards to EcoHealth Alliance, an organization which aims to prevent pandemics through studying emerging infectious diseases, including coronavirus.
The NIH has been reluctant to answer our inquiries on issues such as EcoHealth withholding data, potentially double billing the federal government, and missing laboratory notebooks and electronic files that were supposed to be delivered to NIH by EcoHealth.
Additionally, NIH has not been forthcoming with information regarding EcoHealth’s sub-award grantee, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and issues arising from EcoHealth’s multiple compliance shortcomings with the Institute.
But wait, it gets worse. The NIH suspended EcoHealth’s grants in July 2020 over grant noncompliance concerns and later found EcoHealth did not fulfill certain grant terms. In essence, they found EcoHealth in breach of their contract.
Astoundingly, the NIH still gave a subsequent grant to EcoHealth in September 2022. This is outrageous!
During my questioning, I asked Dr. Tabak of the NIH why they would give more of our American taxpayer dollars to an entity that breached their contract and failed to get required information from China. It appears there are years of missing documentation.
He was unable to explain.
His answers did not convince me that COVID-19 did not emerge because of a lab-related incident.
To this day, the NIH has not properly responded to our inquiries. It is not acceptable to “Stonewall” any Member of Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, with oversight authority. The Subcommittee will continue to press the NIH on their lack of oversight of EcoHealth and ensure moving forward that the NIH’s grantmaking policies and procedures guarantee safe, appropriate, and efficient use of federal taxpayer dollars.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or my Washington office at 202-225-3861. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.