Clyburn and Foster Urge HHS and DOD to Comply with GAO Oversight of Vaccine and Therapeutic Development
Washington, D.C. (September 15, 2020) — Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and Rep. Bill Foster, a member of the Select Subcommittee, sent letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Defense Secretary Mark Esper urging them to provide access and information to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in connection with GAO’s review of Operation Warp Speed, as required by law.
This letter follows the Select Subcommittee’s bipartisan July 24 request to GAO to conduct ongoing, rigorous oversight of Operation Warp Speed and other vaccine-development initiatives funded by the CARES Act and other laws passed by Congress. GAO accepted this review request on July 28.
“We are writing to urge you to provide the Government Accountability Office (GAO) with all of the access and information that it needs to conduct an effective ongoing review of Operation Warp Speed, the Administration’s initiative for developing, manufacturing, and distributing a safe, effective vaccine for the coronavirus,” the Members wrote. “GAO’s review aims to help Operation Warp Speed accomplish its goals by providing an independent perspective and conveying clear and complete information to Congress and the public. To succeed, it will be critical that the Department provides GAO with real-time, ongoing access to information, documents, and officials.”
Established in May 2020, Operation Warp Speed is a partnership of multiple executive branch agencies and private corporations that aims to develop, manufacture, and distribute 300 million doses of a safe and effective vaccine for the coronavirus by January 2021, as well as to develop therapeutics and other countermeasures to address the virus. GAO has agreed to conduct an ongoing review and provide the Select Subcommittee with regular bipartisan briefings and written reports every three months until Operation Warp Speed is disbanded.
The letter continued: “Providing GAO with access to information, documents, and officials is not only critical to conducting this review—it is also required by law. Congress provided GAO with specific access authorities with respect to coronavirus-related oversight. Specifically, the CARES Act provides that GAO ‘shall conduct monitoring and oversight’ pertaining to federal efforts related to the pandemic and ‘shall have access to records’ relating to these efforts. This access authority extends not only to federal agencies, but also to state and local agencies, contractors, grantees, recipients, and subrecipients, including private entities. Congress also empowered GAO to make copies of records, interview staff, and inspect facilities ‘[a]s determined necessary by the Comptroller General.’”
The authorities in the CARES Act are in addition to GAO’s broad traditional legal authority to access information from federal agencies and contractors. Under the law, each federal agency is required to “give the Comptroller General information the Comptroller General requires about the duties, powers, activities, organization, and financial transactions of the agency.”