The NIH couldn’t track how China’s Wuhan virus lab was spending US money.

The federal government ignored warning signs from the lab at the center of the coronavirus controversy, allowing US money to flow into the Wuhan Institute of Virology without proper oversight of what Chinese scientists were doing, it reported. on Wednesday an inspector general.

The National Institutes of Health funded the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit organization, which in turn sent money to Wuhan for research on emerging viruses. The NIH directed EcoHealth to closely monitor the research and to report any signs that the research was producing “enhanced growth” of deadly viruses.

Wuhan crossed that line, but EcoHealth failed to raise the alarm, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services said.

The new report does not conclude that the coronavirus emerged from the Wuhan laboratory and does not link US funding to the virus. But the audit does say that the federal government was sending money without proper controls over how it was spent.

“Despite identifying potential risks associated with research conducted under EcoHealth awards, NIH did not effectively monitor or take timely action to address EcoHealth’s compliance with some research requirements,” the inspector general concluded.

Even now, the National Institutes of Health still can’t say exactly what Wuhan was doing with American taxpayer money in 2019, just before the coronavirus pandemic struck. That’s because the lab has stopped responding to American requests.

The report said EcoHealth should clean up its monitoring and reporting before the US pays the team more money.

The audit also said that HHS should order EcoHealth to repay nearly $90,000 in money the group spent on items that are outside the scope of the settlement.
The White Coat Waste Project, which opposes animal testing and has been pushing for answers about Wuhan for years, said the report confirms its fears.

“EcoHealth Alliance sent tax dollars to Wuhan for experiments on dangerous animals that likely caused the pandemic, violated federal laws and policies, and wasted tax dollars. However, the Wuhan lab remains eligible to receive even more taxpayer money for animal testing,” said Justin Goodman, senior vice president of the project.

He said EcoHealth has raised an additional $46 million in federal contracts since the start of the pandemic. He called on Congress to shut down the pipeline.

“Taxpayers should not be forced to fund reckless white coats that waste money, break the law, and endanger public health. Stop the money, stop the madness,” Goodman said.

Both NIH and EcoHealth told the inspector general that they have taken steps to improve their monitoring and reporting.

But EcoHealth disputed the finding that it did not alert the NIH that the research in Wuhan had crossed limits in terms of virus growth. For one, EcoHealth said it was unclear what the NIH meant by requiring EcoHealth to “immediately report” signs that virus research had become more dangerous. EcoHealth also said it raised the issue in one of its annual reports.

The inspector general said that did not qualify as immediate notification.

EcoHealth also bristled at being criticized for Wuhan’s refusal to deliver research that NIH requested, suggesting that it was NIH that squandered all its leverage with Wuhan by canceling its money in early 2020, and months later asking the lab to publicize his work. The pandemic that followed did not help to grease the skids for cooperation either.

The inspector general acknowledged those obstacles, but said federal regulations required EcoHealth to guarantee access to the Wuhan research.
EcoHealth was trying to keep up. The audit found that its staff met with lab staff at least 20 times between June 2014 and December 2019. That included annual visits to Wuhan.

But EcoHealth failed in its funding agreement with Wuhan, omitted required information, and failed to get Wuhan to report what it was doing in the final years of the project.

The audit also revealed bizarre levels of bureaucratic bungling.

EcoHealth was supposed to submit a progress report every year. In 2019, the fifth year of the five-year grant, EcoHealth said it tried to upload a report into the NIH system, but the file was apparently blocked because the NIH had already approved a new five-year renewal.

NIH did not flag the missed report and EcoHealth did not alert NIH to the problem, thinking the renewal indicated NIH’s continued satisfaction with what the team was doing.

The researchers said the report would finally be released in August 2021, more than two years after it was supposed to have been submitted and more than a year after the pandemic swept across the globe.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

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