Watchdog to Probe Whether CDC, FDA’s Scientific Integrity Was Undermined by Political Interference During Pandemic

Watchdog to Probe Whether CDC, FDA’s Scientific Integrity Was Undermined by Political Interference During Pandemic
The headquarters of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seen in Silver Spring, Md., on Nov. 4, 2009. (Jason Reed/Reuters)
Isabel van Brugen

An independent government watchdog agency on Monday agreed to investigate whether the scientific integrity and communications policies of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been violated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent legislative agency that probes, audits, and evaluates government operations on behalf of Congress, said Oct. 16 (pdf) it had accepted a request from Democratic senators and would examine “whether the CDC and FDA’s scientific integrity and communications policies have been violated and whether those policies are being implemented as intended to assure scientific integrity throughout the agency.”

The request came from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) on Oct. 8.

The Democratic senators alleged that the Trump administration had politically interfered in the FDA and CDC’s work. They pointed to September media reports citing anonymous bureaucrats who said that Trump-appointed bureaucrats—like HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo, the top communications official at the health department—were changing language in the CDC’s COVID-19 reports because they “wrongly inflated the risks of COVID-19,” according to POLITICO.
That same week, Caputo had accused a group of career scientists at the CDC of plotting against Trump, himself claiming that agency bureaucrats were politicizing their work.
Caputo also denied allegations of political interference made in the POLITICO report, saying that his office “clears virtually all public facing documents for all of its divisions, including CDC.”

“Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic—not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC,” he said. The CDC falls under the responsibility of HHS.

HHS told The Epoch Times in September: “Mr. Caputo is a critical, integral part of the President’s coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Democratic senators made their request to the GAO on Oct. 8 (pdf).

“The CDC and FDA’s independence as scientific agencies is crucial to safeguarding the public health and saving lives,” they said. “These agencies must be able to develop, review, and disseminate public health data, guidelines, and other information that are based on science, facts, and medical principles—and not the political imperatives and moods of a president and his advisors.”

The senators alleged that officials within the Trump administration sought to interfere with the CDC’s flagship “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports,” citing another POLITICO report which reported that the actions were so as not to undermine “President Donald Trump’s optimistic messages about the outbreak,” citing internal emails from anonymous sources.
Warren, Murray, and Peters also asserted that the Trump administration pressured the CDC to ease guidelines on re-opening schools as Trump called on governors to get children not in virus hotspots back to in-person learning. They cited the second POLITICO report that accused Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar of leading an “an escalating pressure campaign” on the FDA to “abandon its responsibility” for ensuring the safety and accuracy of a range of COVID-19 tests in August.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that supporters of move to block the FDA’s review process for lab-developed tests were expecting the change to help remove impediments to getting “new and more innovative tests to market more quickly” after the review process slowed down COVID-19 testing at the beginning of the pandemic.

“The GAO’s decision to conduct an independent audit is a good first step towards making sure that guidance coming from federal agencies is based on science and facts, not on the Trump Administration’s political agenda or the President’s whims,” the senators said in a joint statement on Monday.

“Health and science experts should be able to do their jobs to steer us through crises like this pandemic without political interference and we must ensure that the American people receive fact-based information so that they can make well-informed decisions for themselves and their families amidst this national public health emergency,” they stated.

Trump made his own accusations of political interference involving the FDA in August, claiming at the time that the “deep state” or others at the FDA were delaying the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine before the Nov. 3 election.

“The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics,” the president wrote in a controversial Twitter post.

A GAO spokesman told USA TODAY that the agency would have capacity to start the probe into political interference in January “as staff who cover those issues become available.”

The Trump campaign and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Epoch Times.