It seems like every week we are learning more and more about not only the possible origins of COVID-19, but about our own government’s involvement in dangerous scientific experiments overseas – including at the now-infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology in Communist China. It’s disturbing, and I continue to hear from Iowans who want both answers and accountability.
For years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was paying for research on deadly coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab. NIH gave the money to a nonprofit, EcoHealth Alliance, which then funneled U.S. taxpayer dollars into the state-run lab in China for the collection of — and experiments — with coronavirus samples. But even after the onset of the pandemic, EcoHealth has refused to cooperate or answer basic questions about how they used U.S. taxpayer money in China – going so far as to violate several federal transparency laws that require disclosure of how tax dollars are spent.
Fast forward to May 2021, when Dr. Anthony Fauci — the head of the NIH division that dishes out money to EcoHealth — testified before Congress. Under oath, Dr. Fauci told lawmakers, and the American People, that “the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
To no one’s surprise, that turned out to be false. On Oct. 20, the NIH made the glaring admission that they had, in fact, been funding experiments through EcoHealth that very closely resemble what many call gain-of-function (GOF) research — or research that involves experiments that improve the ability of a pathogen to cause disease and, “may entail biosafety and biosecurity risks.” NIH admitted they were financing EcoHealth’s experiments on coronaviruses.
And just this week, the White Coat Waste Project released internal documents obtained from NIH revealing that two of Fauci’s own staffers expressed concerns as far back as May 2016 that EcoHealth’s proposed experiments included GOF. The project was approved regardless, with EcoHealth being notified their work in Wuhan would not be “subject to the GOF funding pause.”
On July 11, 2016, the president of EcoHealth gleefully responded to Fauci’s subordinates, “This is terrific! We are very happy to hear that our gain-of-function research funding pause has been lifted.”
Dr. Fauci can say he didn’t know, but that’s no excuse. He had a legal obligation to know how the tax dollars he was giving out were being spent. And he also failed to enforce the law requiring EcoHealth to disclose the cost of experiments, something I’ve been asking the NIH to do for years now.
Enough is enough. The only way to get to the bottom of this is to follow the science, follow the money, and follow the law. That’s why this week, I introduced the Fairness and Accountability in Underwriting Chinese Institutions Act – or the FAUCI Act – which completely bans U.S. funding of gain-of-function research in Communist China. It also prohibits any federal funding from going to labs and research institutions that receive funding from Communist China for gain-of-function research. In addition, it ensures that any NIH employee, official, or grantee that intentionally misleads Congress, or the Inspector General, will be ineligible for current or future federal grants and employment. And finally, the bill calls for a full accounting of U.S. involvement in gain-of-function research, particularly in China.
We need to get answers about how U.S. taxpayer dollars were used in Communist China. Iowa taxpayers should never be funding dangerous experiments overseas, especially in one of the world’s most closed societies, ruled by a ruthless authoritarian regime with no tolerance for truth or transparency. I’m working to ensure that never happens again, and to finally hold accountable anyone who fails to enforce or follow the law.
Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.