CDC, FDA Workers Observed Incidents of Political Interference: Report

CDC, FDA Workers Observed Incidents of Political Interference: Report
A picture taken outside the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) headquarters in White Oak, Md., on Aug. 29, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
Isabel van Brugen
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) employees say they observed incidents perceived as political interference within the federal agencies that may have altered or suppressed scientific findings,  a new federal report has found.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) interviewed 16 employees at the CDC, FDA and the National Instituted of Health (NIH)—agencies which spearheaded the nation’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal audit group said it was asked to review scientific integrity policies and procedures, and how allegations of political interference in scientific decision-making are addressed at CDC, FDA, NIH and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).

In a 37-page report published last week, the GAO said respondents from CDC and FDA didn’t report potential political interference in scientific decision-making in part because they feared retaliation, while some said they weren’t sure how to report what they observed.

CDC, FDA and NIH employees also told GAO investigators that they didn’t make formal reports because they believed leadership was already aware of the issues.

"For example, in May 2020, a senior official from ASPR claimed HHS retaliated against him for disclosing, among other things, concerns about inappropriate political interference to make chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine available to the public as treatments for COVID-19," GAO officials wrote.

No formal reports of potential political interference were submitted at the federal health agencies from 2010 through 2021, GAO said, pointing to a lack of guidance.

“A few respondents from CDC and FDA stated they felt that the potential political interference they observed resulted in the alteration or suppression of scientific findings,” the GAO report said.

“Some of these respondents believed that this potential political interference may have resulted in the politically motivated alteration of public health guidance or delayed publication of Covid-related scientific findings.”

GAO investigators noted that none of the agencies have developed procedures specific to reporting and addressing potential politic interference in scientific decision-making. The agencies also do not have procedures in place that define political meddling in scientific decision-making, the audit found.

"The absence of specific procedures may explain why the four selected agencies did not identify any formally reported internal allegations of potential political interference in scientific decision-making from 2010 through 2021," the report notes.

Alongside the interviews, a confidential hotline was also set up for agency employees over a 2-month period to gather their opinions and perspectives related to issues of scientific integrity and political interference at all four agencies.

GAO didn’t release any specific details about the employees' allegations of political interference.

The audit group made seven recommendations to the agencies, including ensuring that procedures for reporting and addressing potential political interference in scientific decision-making are developed and documented.

"To help reduce employees' fear of retaliation and encourage appropriate reporting, agencies could include information on whistleblower protections, and clarify any reporting requirements for employees who believe they observed potential political interference in scientific decision-making," the GAO report said.

"Training agency employees and contractors performing scientific activities would help agencies ensure that employees and contractors understand how to report allegations of political interference."

The Epoch Times has contacted the CDC, FDA, NIH and ASPR for comment.

Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.