Federal officials repeatedly raided a fund earmarked for biomedical research in the years leading up to the covid-19 pandemic, spending millions of dollars on unrelated salaries, administrative expenses and even the cost of removing office furniture, according to the findings of an investigation into a whistleblower complaint shared with The Washington Post.
The investigation, conducted by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services and overseen by the Office of Special Counsel, centered on hundreds of millions of dollars intended for the development of vaccines, drugs and therapies by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority or BARDA, an arm of the federal health department.
The unidentified whistleblower alleged that officials in the office of the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, which oversaw the biomedical agency, wrongly dipped into the money set aside by Congress for development of lifesaving medicines, beginning in fiscal 2010 and continuing through at least fiscal 2019, spanning both the Obama and Trump administrations.
The inspector general substantiated some of the whistleblower’s claims, finding that staff referred to the agency as the “bank of BARDA” and told investigators that research and development funds were regularly tapped for unrelated projects, sometimes at “exorbitant” rates.
“I am deeply concerned about [the] apparent misuse of millions of dollars in funding meant for public health emergencies like the one our country is currently facing with the covid-19 pandemic,” Special Counsel Henry Kerner wrote in a letter to President Biden on Wednesday. “Equally concerning is how widespread and well-known this practice appeared to be for nearly a decade.”
The inspector general concluded that the agency violated the Purpose Statute, a cornerstone of federal law designed to ensure that funds appropriated by Congress are used for their intended purpose.
COVID-19 PCR testing paper, “the criteria for a retraction of the article have not been fulfilled
Two months after announcing it would review an early 2020 paper on a way to detect the virus that causes COVID-19, a journal says that “the criteria for a retraction of the article have not been fulfilled.”
The review of the paper, “Detection of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) by real-time RT-PCR, by the journal, Eurosurveillance, was prompted by critiques including a petition by some 20 people around the world for what they called “scientific and methodological blemishes.” The senior author of the Eurosurveillance paper, Christian Drosten, of the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, has been a leader in the fight against the pandemic, but has also predictably drawn criticism from those who oppose lockdowns.
On December 3, the journal issued a statement saying they were reviewing the allegations, which, as editors note in their statement dated yesterday:
Allegations concerned the scientific quality of the article, the peer review process and a conflict of interest for two of the authors, who are also editorial board members of Eurosurveillance.
Those two authors were excluded from the review, according to the journal.
The editorial board of the journal found that “there was no conflict of interest by the associate editors who co-authored the manuscript” and “further decided to involve external subject experts to assess the allegations related to the scientific content of the article.”
The editors note that
articles submitted by members of the board are not given any priority over other manuscripts. When editorial board members are authors of a submitted manuscript, they are not involved in any stage of the peer review or the editorial decision-making, nor do they have access to confidential information related to the decision-making process.
The statement continues:
The speed of the publishing process has led to allegations via social media and email that the evaluation and review process were flawed. The Eurosurveillance editorial team has long-standing experience in expedited publishing in instances when rapid dissemination of information could potentially lead to a prompt change in an ongoing public health situation or create awareness for topics of timely relevance. In such instances, the editorial team works in close coordination with reviewers and authors. Since 2015, about 30% of rapid communications have been published less than 2 weeks following submission, including peer review. This has also been the case for a maximum of two regular articles per year. Eurosurveillance’s in-house editorial team performs most editorial and all publishing tasks, without involvement of external parties such as typesetters. This allows for great flexibility, particularly in times of emerging or evolving public health emergencies [4–6], when case numbers or other relevant information/data can be updated even hours before publication.
The editors conclude:
The detailed allegations with respect to scientific flaws in the Corman et al. article were reviewed by a group of five laboratory experts. These comments were made available to the Eurosurveillance associate editors, except for those who were co-authors of the paper.
The consulted experts confirmed that the Corman et al. article was scientifically adequate for its purpose and for the limited data and material available at this early stage in the COVID-19 pandemic. Any laboratory deciding to use the primers and protocol suggested in this article would ascertain the assay for its fitness for purpose and compliance with local quality and accreditation requirements; this is what has happened worldwide since the publication of the article. With more data and evolving knowledge, laboratories have since further improved the initial method, as per usual practice.
In conclusion, after a thorough investigation in which we collected scientific advice from various sources, including several external reviewers, the editorial team—unanimously supported by its associate editors, except for those who were involved as co-authors—has decided that the criteria for a retraction of the article have not been fulfilled.