Watchdog Sues Biden Administration Over Refusal to Provide Studies on Masks

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
August 16, 2022 Updated: August 16, 2022

A watchdog group is suing the Biden administration for allegedly refusing to provide information on studies on the efficacy of cloth masks.

Functional Government Initiative (FGI) says the Department of Health and Human Services and two subagencies have violated federal law by refusing to provide the information.

FGI in February sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the department, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases seeking details on how the agencies have analyzed the effectiveness of cloth masks, including information on any studies the agencies have funded on the matter.

FGI also asked for internal communications that discussed whether to fund randomized controlled studies on mask efficacy or responses to public calls for such studies, among other documents.

But all three agencies have violated the law governing FOIA requests, which set out specific periods of time the agencies have to respond to and determine whether requests require extra time to complexities, according to the pair of suits filed in federal court in Washington.

“Absent the filing of this lawsuit, FGI will not obtain the records to which it is entitled under FOIA,” each filing says.

FGI is asking the court to find that the agencies violated the law, and to order it to force the agencies into compliance.

FGI said its requests were spurred by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, another subagency of the health department (HHS), in January saying cloth masks “provide the least protection” and that surgical masks and respirators offer the best protection.

The CDC’s update conveyed “what the American public already knew for months,” Pete McGinnis, a spokesman for FGI, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, those who publicly questioned the efficacy of cloth masks prior to their announcement were dismissed or branded purveyors of misinformation, and worse by Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and other government officials.”

“The American people deserve to know how long HHS was sitting on this data, if they even reviewed studies before making their recommendations for mandated masks, and why they continued to promote cloth masks after they knew they didn’t work to stop the spread of COVID-19,” he added.

Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In the early days of the pandemic, he and other U.S. officials exhorted people not to wear masks, but they later shifted their stance.

The three agencies being sued did not respond to requests for comment.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.