What’s in a name?
In Washington, it can be quite a lot — which is why Washington lingo can be so difficult to understand. There’s the Byrd rule, the Flores Settlement Agreement, and more.
One of the most long-standing transparency laws is called the “Stevens Amendment,” which has been included in every government funding bill for over thirty years. And for good reason — it’s common-sense, noncontroversial, and nonpartisan.
Put plainly, the Stevens Amendment requires all recipients of taxpayer funding through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — including top animal testing funder the National Institutes of Health (NIH)— to acknowledge the funding they’ve received, whenever they discuss details about projects they’re working on in press releases or other public documents.
In other words: if taxpayers give you funding, you have to let them know.
Unfortunately, as we’ve documented over the years, not all recipients of YOUR money follow the law.
One habitual law-breaker is EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), which happily shipped taxpayer funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, considered by many to be ground zero for the Covid-19 pandemic. Even though EHA has gobbled up $15 million from the NIH since 2002, and over $100 million in total from other federal agencies, they flouted the law and did not disclose their funding on many, many documents. (Despite breaking the law, EcoHealth raked in over $26 million in new federal grants since the pandemic began, and a $1.5 million bailout to boot!)
We caught them red-handed — and in March 2021, we filed a complaint with the NIH.
That same week, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) wrote to Health and Human Services’ internal watchdog, the Inspector General (IG). In her letter, Sen. Ernst requested that the IG conduct a review of noncompliance from HHS grantees, including EcoHealth Alliance, which she said had a “total disregard for Stevens Amendment requirements.”
How much taxpayer $ was used to fund research involving bat coronaviruses at Red China’s state-run WIV? We don’t know as @NIH refuses to comply w/the law & disclose costs. I’m calling on @OIGatHHS to investigate so taxpayers know how their $ is being spent.https://t.co/0rU9NNJP5p
— Joni Ernst (@SenJoniErnst) June 3, 2021
Our combined efforts were successful, and in June 2021, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at HHS announced that it would be investing NIH’s grant program. “Based on our preliminary research and analysis, HHS-OIG has decided to conduct an extensive audit reviewing how NIH monitored selected grants and how the grantees and subgrantees used and managed federal funds between years 2014 through 2021,” Tesia Williams, director of communications for the HHS Office of Inspector General, told CNN. Ms. Williams also stated that “We have been monitoring this issue for some time and consider it a high-priority matter that can pose a threat to the integrity of the NIH grant program.”
It’s about time. (In our opinion, potentially causing a global pandemic definitely constitutes a “high-priority matter.”)
This isn’t the first time that a White Coat Waste Project (WCW) investigation revealed massive noncompliance with the law. When WCW released “Ivy League Flunkers” in 2017, which detailed massive Stevens Amendment noncompliance at America’s most prestigious universities, it drew the attention of several Senators, who immediately asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate. The GAO found that, with rare exceptions, “Department offices didn’t manage grantee compliance with the disclosure requirement,” and that “Most HHS operating divisions said they did not review grantees for Stevens Amendment compliance.” In other words, both HHS and its grant recipients turned a blind eye to the law.
But now, with the Inspector General of HHS taking a MUCH closer look at grant recipients, they’re going to have to clean up their act.
Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent (or misspent, as the case may be). Taxpayers have a right to know when their money is being wasted on cruel animal experiments at home and abroad. Taxpayers have a right to know when their money is being spent to torture beagles, or to fund gain-of-function experiments at the Wuhan Animal Lab.
Transparency matters. So does following the law.
Senator Ernst has recently introduced the Cost Openness and Spending Transparency (COST) Act, which would require all taxpayer-funded animal experimenters and other grantees to publicly disclose the cost of their wasteful projects, and cut off their funding if they don’t comply.
This bill would be a huge step forward, and you can help! Sign our petition telling Congress you want them to pass the COST Act!