U.S. federal investigators said Wednesday they are looking into the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) management and oversight of its funding program, which may include a review by Republican lawmakers of financial assistance programs related to China’s Wuhan virus laboratory.
The comprehensive review comes as questions are again being raised about the origins of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak and the role the Wuhan Institute of Virus Research may have played. Republicans are now focusing on the National Institutes of Health’s relationship with the global nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, targeting, among others, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), according to a review by the Central News Agency.
The U.S. NGO EcoHealth Alliance has funded several studies at the Wuhan Institute of Virus Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Approximately 80 percent of NIH funding is used to support research grants, including grants to foreign organizations. According to the work plan, the review will examine how these grants are being monitored and ensure that grantees are using and managing the NIH grants in accordance with federal requirements.
Fauci confirmed to members of Congress earlier this year that the National Institutes of Health had provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, and that the money had been redirected to the Wuhan Institute of Virus Research to study coronaviruses in bats. Fauci told congressional budget hearings that “about $600,000 has been spent over the last five years,” or about $125,000 to $150,000 a year, on the Wuhan collaboration.
In addition, conservative attacks on Fauci have become more intense following the recent release of a batch of his emails by U.S. media organizations.
According to the released emails, a top Ecological Health Alliance executive thanked Fauci in an April 2020 email to him for publicly stating the scientific evidence supporting a natural origin for the coronavirus, not a lab leak.
But Fauci recently told CNN anchor John Berman that the email was misunderstood and that it was “nonsense” to say he had a close relationship with the people behind the Wuhan lab research. Fauci told Berman, “I’ve always said this, and I’ll say it to you today, I still think the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human being, but if there’s a possibility that there’s another origin, another reason, a possible leak from outside the lab, I’m absolutely open-minded.
Tesia Williams, liaison director for the U.S. Department of Health’s Office of Inspector General, reportedly told CNN, “We share the same concerns as stakeholders about grant fund compliance and oversight. We have been monitoring this matter for some time and believe it is a high priority matter that could pose a threat to the integrity of the National Institutes of Health grant program.” …… “In light of our initial research and analysis, the U.S. Department of Health’s Office of Inspector General has decided to conduct a large-scale audit to examine how the National Institutes of Health screens and monitors grants and how grantees and commissioners use and manage federal funds between 2014 and 2021. “
President Joe Biden has ordered the intelligence community to turn over a report on the origins of the new coronavirus within three months. Biden issued a written statement May 26 detailing the findings in a report previously submitted to him, and in March asked his team to elaborate on whether the new coronavirus “originated from human contact with infected animals or from a laboratory accident.
President Biden on May 26 ordered aides to determine the origin of the new coronavirus, saying U.S. intelligence agencies were divided on the issue, including the possibility of a Chinese laboratory leak. The intelligence community was also asked to turn in reports on the source of the new coronavirus within three months.