A federal watchdog has opened an investigation into the National Institutes of Health’s grant program amid the ongoing controversy over funds being sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“We share stakeholders’ concerns regarding compliance and oversight of NIH grant funds. 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,” Department of Health and Human Services inspector general spokesperson Tesia Williams said in a statement obtained by the Post.
“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,” Williams added.
The time frame covered by the investigation, which was first reported by CNN, coincides with the period when New York City-based non-profit EcoHealth Alliance received $3.75 million in grant money from the NIH to carry out a study called “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence.”
Between fiscal years 2014 and 2019, a total of $826,277 from the initial grant was parceled out by EcoHealth to the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a subgrant.
Internal NIH emails obtained earlier this month by the conservative group Judicial Watch indicate that the Wuhan lab was due to receive a total of $1.5 million in federal grant money via EcoHealth between mid-2014 and mid-2025. EcoHealth would have received approximately $7.4 million over the same period.
Chief White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci undersold the amount and length of the funding commitment to the lab in testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee last month, saying the subgrant from EcoHealth “was about $600,000 over a period of five years, so it was a modest amount.”
There is circumstantial evidence that suggests the coronavirus pandemic was triggered by a leak of the virus from the Wuhan Institute of Virology into the city of Wuhan, which has a population of around 11 million people.
Some experts and lawmakers have also suggested that the lab was carrying out so-called “gain of function” research, in which viruses are manipulated to become more transmissible and harmful to humans.
Fauci and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins have repeatedly denied that the grant money awarded to EcoHealth Alliance was used to fund gain of function research at the Wuhan laboratory, though they have also acknowledged they have no way of knowing whether scientists there performed undisclosed gain of function experiments.
“We are, of course, not aware of other sources of funds or other activities they might have undertaken outside of what our approved grant allowed,” Collins said in the same May 25 House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.
The following day, under questioning from Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), Fauci admitted that while he believed the funding was not misused, he “can not guarantee that a grantee has not lied to us, because you never know.”
The NIH did not immediately respond to requests for comment.