GOP Lawmakers Seek Answers on Pentagon’s Redaction of China Funding Details

Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Elise Stefanik are seeking the lifting of redactions on spending data about research on pathogens with pandemic potential.
GOP Lawmakers Seek Answers on Pentagon’s Redaction of China Funding Details
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), at a June 2023 Washington press conference with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Mark Tapscott
Updated:
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Senate and House Republicans want new requirements that the Department of Defense (DOD) make public unclassified information it has redacted on Pentagon funding of enhancement research on pathogens with pandemic potential that is linked to the Chinese military.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) are acting in response to a Department of Defense Inspector General (DOD-IG) report that said auditors cannot track all such potential funding because of inadequacies in the Pentagon’s budget management system.

Ms. Ernst is Chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, while Ms. Stefanik is Chair of the House Republican Conference.

“The full extent of DOD funds provided to Chinese research laboratories or other foreign countries for research related to enhancement of pathogens of pandemic potential is unknown. Our results were consistent with observations identified by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a 2022 report,” the DOD-IG report said.
The DOD-IG did identify more than $8 million in DOD funding received by a Chinese firm with strong ties to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but most of the information about such funding was redacted under the Pentagon’s Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) exemption.

The CUI exemption covers information generated by federal agencies that “while not meeting the threshold for classification as national security or atomic energy information, requires some level of protection from unauthorized access and release.”

Additionally, officials with the U.S. Navy did not respond to the DOD-IG auditors’ requests for information and documentation.

Ms. Ernst is not satisfied that the CUI legitimately covers information about U.S. tax dollars benefitting the PLA via the Pentagon.

A DOD-IG spokesman told The Epoch Times the CUI redactions resulted from a review by U.S. Army officials of the draft report, noting that the “process includes a security review by DOD Components where they determine what information is CUI and therefore cannot be released. In this case, the DOD OIG provided the Management Advisory to the U.S. Army, which then marked sections for redaction during its official security review as the originators of the information, as they retain the release authority.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) speaks at the 2024 Road to Majority Conference in Washington on June 21, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) speaks at the 2024 Road to Majority Conference in Washington on June 21, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

“In the new OIG report, key findings that were uncovered are inexplicably redacted in the version released to the public. The information is not classified or proprietary and is required to be disclosed to the public by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act,” Ms. Ernst told Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a June 25 letter that was made available to The Epoch Times.

“It is deeply troubling that the government, especially DOD, cannot account for how much taxpayer money is being sent to China or why, and it is hiding what it does know from the public,” Ms. Ernst wrote.

“With DOD secretly funding risky research on dangerous pathogens and diseases in China, this alarming Inspector General investigation demonstrates Washington hasn’t learned any lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ms. Ernst was referring to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic that has killed a reported 1.2 million or more Americans since January 2020. The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been at the center of lab leak theories. U.S. Energy Department assessed last year that the pandemic most likely arose from a lab leak.

The Iowa Republican told Mr. Austin she wanted an explanation for the redactions, including why the funding that was uncovered was not included in the USASpending.gov database as required by law, why Navy officials did not cooperate with the DOD-IG auditors, and why the Pentagon chose to collaborate with the PLA-connected firm that received the $8 million.

Ms. Ernst and Ms. Stefanik are re-introducing tracking legislation in both chambers of Congress. The Iowa Republican last year submitted Tracking Receipts to Adversarial Countries for Knowledge of Spending Act, or the TRACKS Act, to the Senate.

The TRACKS Act requires posting on USASpending.gov all grants and sub-grants to entities located in adversarial or foreign nations of concern.

“We cannot allow a single penny from hardworking Americans to go to foreign adversaries actively working against America and our interests. This desperately needed legislation ensures that bureaucrats are held accountable for their reckless and irresponsible spending that is lining the pockets of countries like Communist China,” Ms. Stefanik said in a statement made available to The Epoch Times.

The Epoch Times has reached out to the Pentagon for comment.

Mark Tapscott is an award-winning senior Congressional correspondent for The Epoch Times. He covers Congress, national politics, and policy. Mr. Tapscott previously worked for Washington Times, Washington Examiner, Montgomery Journal, and Daily Caller News Foundation.
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