Washington, D.C. — Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) delivered opening remarks at today’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on biosafety and risky research conducted and funded by the federal government. The hearing was part of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ongoing investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and other research involving potential pandemic pathogens.
Excerpts and highlights from her remarks below:
A MAJOR BIOLOGICAL RISK IN SUDAN
“With several new books out this week about lab accidents, a recently released Senate report with new details pointing to safety problems at the Wuhan lab, and the recent recommendations of an NIH advisory panel on oversight of risky research, this hearing is timely.
“Not to mention the terrifying news that fighters in Sudan have seized the country’s National Laboratory for Public Health, which holds samples of risky and deadly diseases, including measles, polio, and cholera, which the WHO has said is a ‘huge biological risk.’
“This is especially worrisome considering the CDC has supported this national lab since 2006, including its biosafety protocols, lab quality management and infrastructure, and staff trainings.
“As recently as 2018, CDC helped to establish the first viral load monitoring facility at this lab.
“This is a very dangerous situation that we must monitor closely.”
INVESTIGATING THE ORIGINS OF COVID-19
“We still do not know how the COVID-19 pandemic started.
“However, more information has heightened our suspicions that the origin of the pandemic was linked to a lab incident.
“It raises the importance of our work to oversee biosafety of risky research.
“Unfortunately, in our pursuit of solutions, the conduct of some public health officials and the loss of trust in our public health institutions hampered our response.
“Instead of openness and honest discussion, HHS and the NIH have persisted in foot-dragging, stonewalling, or flat-out refusing to engage on legitimate questions.
“Today, the NIH still won’t provide meaningful information or straight answers to the Committee about how the P3CO framework governing risky research was developed, and who at the NIH was responsible for developing the framework.
“An NIH advisory panel earlier this year found the framework had too many loopholes, and too much flexibility to evade independent review.”
ECOHEALTH ALLIANCE’S FAILURE TO COMPLY
“We still do not have complete information about how NIH experts in 2016 allowed EcoHealth Alliance, through its subgrantee the Wuhan Institute of Virology, to proceed with a research proposal infecting humanized mice with experimental coronavirus strains.
“NIH and EcoHealth agreed to go forward with the experiment on the condition that if excessive virus growth occurred, EcoHealth would immediately stop the experiment and notify the NIH.
“This condition was incorporated into the grant terms. The experiment went forward, there was excessive virus growth, but immediate stoppage and notification did not occur.
“This was the conclusion of both the NIH and the Office of the HHS Inspector General.
“Under other circumstances, EcoHealth’s failure to stop the experiment and immediately notify the NIH could be described as a near-miss safety incident.
“However, we have no way of knowing whether it was a lucky break with no incident, or a lab experiment gone wrong.
“NIH has no way of knowing because EcoHealth committed another failure—it did not obtain the laboratory notebooks and electronic files from the Wuhan lab.
“Yet even with these compliance failures, NIH continues to hold EcoHealth in good standing and continues to provide them with even more funding. No changes in policy. No lessons learned.”
THE LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY AT NIH
“Where is the accountability?
“No consequences. No accountability. No seriousness from the NIH.
“No wonder the credibility of the NIH has suffered, even after spending $1 billion taxpayer dollars on public relations—we’re going to get to the bottom of that too.
“The American people deserve answers and accountability.
“Dr. Fauci admitting in the New York Times quote, ‘Something clearly went wrong’ is not going to cut it.
“As we will learn today, we have gaps in biosafety policy and oversight.
“However, even addressing these gaps will not be sufficient if the NIH only pays lip service to biosafety compliance with no real commitment to implementation.
“The path forward to restoring public trust is having good-faith, honest discussion.
“We need critical research for cures and medical countermeasures.
“For years, this committee, and particularly this subcommittee, have held oversight hearings about lab accidents and other mishaps.
“The risk side still has not been adequately dealt with.
“Today’s hearing can be a constructive start.
“I thank the witnesses for their participation, especially testifying in-person on short notice. We appreciate your cooperation.”
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