05.08.20

Murray, HELP Democrats Demand Transparency from Key Trump Official In COVID-19 Response After Reports of Undisclosed Conflicts of Interest

Recent reporting and a whistleblower complaint raise concerns that HHS Assistant Secretary Kadlec has undisclosed connections to business receiving HHS contracts

 

Murray, Democrats: “All work by the Department, particularly during the COVID-19 response, must be done based on scientific and public health need and be in no way influenced by political, financial, or personal ties.”

 

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and five Democrats on the HELP Committee demanded that Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Robert Kadlec, who is a key official in the Administration’s COVID-19 response, accurately disclose all his personal, financial, and political ties in light of new reporting that he had failed to do so previously. The senators expressed concern that Dr. Kadlec’s nomination paperwork may not have fully reflected his potential conflicts of interests and urged him to work with ethics officials to determine if he is in violation of ethics laws.

 

“We are concerned by recent reports you failed to disclose your work with multiple biodefense entities to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee during the nomination process to become Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),” wrote the senators in a letter to Dr. Kadlec.

 

“By failing to disclose these ties, you limited the Senate, ethics officers, and the public’s ability to fully understand your background and potential conflicts of interest.  As we face an unprecedented public health crisis, we seek your assurances that all decisions you make as the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response are driven by public health, and request additional information from you in order to understand any potential conflicts of interest that may have arisen as a result of the omissions in your Committee paperwork,” continued the senators.

 

The senators letter comes after a troubling report that Dr. Kadlec did not disclose to the HELP Committee his connections to companies with business directly relevant to his position at HHS. One of these companies—Emergent Biosolutions Corporation—has received more than $733 million from Dr. Kadlec’s office at HHS since his confirmation in 2017, making it the most highly paid contractor for the office. Emergent has also recently received $14.5 million in funding from ASPR through the COVID-19 response, to expedite development of a therapy for use in COVID-19 patients.

 

The senators stressed that it is especially important in the midst of a public health crisis that all Dr. Kadlec’s decisions be driven by science—not political, personal, or financial ties. The senators demanded that Dr. Kadlec correct his nomination paperwork to reflect his prior employment, work with his Designated Agency Ethics Official to determine whether he violated any ethics laws, and update the senators to assure them he has taken these steps and will make decisions driven by public health. The senators demanded this update no later than May 19, 2020.

 

In addition to Senator Murray, the letter was signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

 

Read the full letter below and HERE.

 

May 8, 2020

 

The Honorable Robert Kadlec, M.D.

Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20201

 

Dear Assistant Secretary Kadlec:

 

We are concerned by recent reports you failed to disclose your work with multiple biodefense entities to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee during the nomination process to become Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  By failing to disclose these ties, you limited the Senate, ethics officers, and the public’s ability to fully understand your background and potential conflicts of interest.  Additional emails and documents released this week, related to Dr. Rick Bright’s complaint filed with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), suggest a troubling pattern of political interference within the Office of the ASPR in recent years.

 

As we face an unprecedented public health crisis, we seek your assurances that all decisions you make as the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response are driven by public health, and request additional information from you in order to understand any potential conflicts of interest that may have arisen as a result of the omissions in your Committee paperwork.  All work by the Department, particularly during the COVID-19 response, must be done based on scientific and public health need and be in no way influenced by political, financial, or personal ties. 

 

According to the reports, you did not disclose your connection to two companies that conduct business relevant to your current position.   In 2012, you co-founded East West Protection LLC, an international biodefense preparedness company, where you served as a director until 2015.[1]  You sold your share of the business in January 2015 to Fuad El-Hibri, the company’s co-founder, though you were quoted in the press in April and August 2015 as affiliated with East West.[2]  You also served as an international biodefense consultant for Emergent BioSolutions Corporation, also founded by Mr. El-Hibri.[3]  You did not list either of these affiliations on your HELP Committee or Office of Government Ethics (OGE) paperwork during your 2017 nomination process.

 

Since your confirmation as the ASPR in August 2017, Emergent has received more than $733 million from your office – making it the most highly paid contractor for the office.[4]  Furthermore, Emergent reportedly identified transferring the stockpile from the CDC to ASPR as part of its annual corporate strategy for 2017 – a transfer you pushed for and that ultimately occurred in 2018, despite concerns from public health experts.  Emergent has also recently received funding through the COVID-19 response: it received $14.5 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is under the ASPR, to expedite development of a therapy for use in COVID-19 patients.[5]  Emergent has partnered with several pharmaceutical companies to support manufacturing of their COVID-19 vaccine candidates.[6]  These manufacturing efforts will take place at Emergent’s Baltimore Bayview facility, one of three Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (CIADM) created through public-private partnerships with BARDA.  BARDA officials were recently quoted in several Emergent press releases announcing these partnerships.[7]

 

In light of these concerning reports, we request you provide the HELP Committee with corrected paperwork accurately reflecting your prior employment and work with your Designated Agency Ethics Official to determine whether you conducted any work in violation of ethics laws.  We request a briefing on these steps and your assurances that all decisions made at ASPR are driven by public health no later than May 19, 2020. To schedule the requested briefing, please contact Elizabeth Letter with Senator Murray’s HELP Committee Staff at 202-224-0767.  Thank you in advance for you attention to this matter. 

 

Sincerely,

 

###