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Millions Meant for Public Health Threats Were Diverted Elsewhere, Watchdog Says

  • January 28, 2021

“I am deeply concerned about ASPR’s 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,” Henry J. Kerner, the special counsel, wrote in a letter to Mr. Biden, using the acronym for the assistant secretary for preparedness and response.

“Equally concerning,” Mr. Kerner added, “is how widespread and well-known this practice appeared to be for nearly a decade.”

The report does not specifically say how much money was misappropriated. But roughly $25 million was taken from BARDA programs and provided to the assistant secretary’s office as recently as the 2019 fiscal year, the office found. And from the 2007 to 2016 fiscal years, the assistant secretary failed to account for $517.8 million in administrative expenditures, according to the report.

It also suggests a senator, Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, who wrote the legislation that created BARDA and is considered its champion in Congress, became involved in internal funding disputes. The whistle-blower told investigators that “restrictive wording” was added to the 2016 appropriations bill at the behest of Mr. Burr and his “pet project” — an apparent reference to BARDA.

A spokesman for the senator had no comment.

BARDA was created by Congress in 2006. Its mission is to finance novel research into vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and other “medical countermeasures” to combat natural and biodefense threats. It operated in relative obscurity until April, when Dr. Kadlec fired its director, Dr. Rick Bright.

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