Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) are demanding the Defense Department’s inspector general probe more than $50 million in defense grants to Chinese pandemic research institutions — including those based in Wuhan, the city where COVID-19 emerged in 2019.
“A comprehensive review of these matters is crucial for identifying potential national security threats that could result either from Pentagon procurement of technology from Chinese companies or dangerous experiments being conducted in foreign laboratories with substandard safety conditions,” Ernst and Gallagher wrote in a Thursday letter to Pentagon watchdog Robert Storch.
The 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed last month, included an amendment from the lawmakers that directed the IG’s office to review Pentagon funding of risky research on pathogens of pandemic potential or “chimeric versions” of viruses in foreign nations over the past decade.
“Tens of millions of Department of Defense dollars have been given to our enemies. This is not just a massive accounting error, but a waste of taxpayer dollars and a threat to our national security,” Gallagher told The Post.
“Our amendment that became law last year requires the Pentagon Inspector General to get to the bottom of this, and it’s time we move with a sense of urgency to fix this problem, protect taxpayer dollars, and ensure not a single cent is funding our adversaries like the Chinese Communist Party.”
The law specifically targets Chinese government-linked research at the now-infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing.
“Due to the lack of accuracy and completeness of federal spending data, only the DOD OIG has the capabilities to conduct these investigations,” the lawmakers told Storch before laying out past attempts to quantify the topline amount.
In May 2023, Ernst’s office announced that a joint investigation with taxpayer watchdog OpenTheBooks found more than $490 million in US funds flowed to Chinese organizations between 2017 and 2022, of which $51.6 million came from the Department of Defense.
But Ernst and Gallagher say “this may be just the tip of the iceberg of the taxpayer dollars from DOD and other government agencies, contractors, and grantees being floated to China.”
Through grants from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Manhattan-based EcoHealth Alliance used American taxpayers’ money to fund more than $1.4 million in research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology from 2014 to 2021, including risky gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses.
The Government Accountability Office confirmed the funding amounts last year after the watchdog group White Coat Waste first exposed the grants in April 2020.
However, those were not disclosed to USAspending.gov, a public database of all government grants, and EcoHealth has a “record of circumventing federal reporting rules” and concealing the scope of its research plans, Ernst and Gallagher said.
In 2018, EcoHealth submitted a grant proposal called Project DEFUSE to a Pentagon subagency that would have tested their ability to increase the transmissibility of bat coronaviruses to humans.
The proposal had omitted plans to conduct the experiments on the SARS-like viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to the documents obtained by US Right To Know, with EcoHealth President Peter Daszak saying he would “downplay the non-US focus of this proposal” by leaving out the Chinese researcher involved.
The grant request was rejected, but EcoHealth has funded more than $47 million in research projects at the Wuhan Institute of Virology since 2008, according to USAspending.gov.
A January 2023 audit by the US Health and Human Services IG office also found that EcoHealth hid nearly $600,000 in funding sent to the Wuhan Institute — and failed to immediately notify NIH when its research “showed evidence of enhanced virus growth.”
Both officials who oversaw the grants — former NIH director Francis Collins and former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci — have repeatedly denied that these experiments constituted “gain-of-function” research.
In total, Ernst and Gallagher said the scientific research nonprofit “concealed spending more than $1 million of US taxpayer money on risky research on bat coronaviruses in China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
They pointed out that the Department of Defense “is currently providing $3 million to EcoHealth to study ‘viral spillover from wildlife in the Philippines,’ $3 million for viral spillover biosurveillance in India, and $5 million to study ‘high-risk pathogens’ in Liberia.”
“Taxpayers deserve to know how much of their money is being shipped to China and why Washington continues collecting and creating deadly super viruses—both of which could pose threats to our national security,” Ernst told The Post.
“COVID-19, which likely began by being leaked from China’s Wuhan Institute, should have given pause to tampering with pathogens of pandemic potential, yet the Biden administration continues financing risky research around the world.”
Last year, both the Energy Department and FBI concluded that an accidental lab leak was the most likely explanation for the COVID-19 pandemic, while other US intelligence agencies were either unable to determine the virus’ origin or said it “was not laboratory-adapted.”
“We cannot trust the mad scientists at EcoHealth to get their hands on taxpayer money or bats ever again,” Ernst added. “This investigation is the first step to bringing long overdue transparency and accountability to the indefensible ways Washington is spending our defense dollars.”
The Pentagon inspector general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.