October 09, 2020

Warren, Murray, Peters Call for GAO to Investigate Trump Administration Interference in FDA and CDC Coronavirus Decisions That Have Undermined Public Trust

The Senators Have Also Called for the Department of Health and Human Services' Watchdog to Conduct an Investigation

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC -- United States Senator Elizabeth Warren, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the HELP Committee, and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) calling for an immediate investigation to understand the extent of undue political influence at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and whether this interference has violated the agencies' scientific integrity and communication policies. 

"The CDC and FDA's independence as scientific agencies is crucial to safeguarding the public health and saving lives," the Senators wrote. "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. But the Trump Administration has reportedly pressured the CDC and FDA throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, repeatedly applying political pressure and imposing orders on career scientists that undermine the agencies' credibility and independence."

The lawmakers' request follows reports of persistent and widespread political interference at both agencies in the COVID-19 response, which have resulted in public confusion and distrust of important health information necessary to help contain the spread of the virus. After reports broke that FDA was close to issuing strict guidance for authorizing COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use, for instance, President Trump said that the plan "sounds like a political move, while he continued to suggest the agency would green light a vaccine by Election Day. The guidance was ultimately released, but only after news broke of the White House's attempts to block it.

Other reports show the White House pressured the CDC into downplaying risks associated with children returning to in-person learning at schools and HHS political appointees reviewed and may have altered or delayed weekly scientific reports issued by CDC about the pandemic. HHS political appointees and the White House Coronavirus Task Force also reportedly published guidance to the CDC's website, without approval from the CDC, recommending that asymptomatic individuals do not need to be tested for COVID-19, even after exposure to someone with COVID-19. This guidance was then reversed. 

Last week, the lawmakers also led 27 of their Senate colleagues calling for the HHS inspector general to investigate these serious reports of political interference with the scientific processes at HHS during the COVID-19 response.

The Senators also recently introduced the Science and Transparency Over Politics (STOP) Act, which would create a task force of the Pandemic Response and Accountability Committee charged with conducting a thorough investigation into any political interference with decisions made by scientific agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services in connection with the pandemic response. These reports would be released to committees of jurisdiction and could be made public, and the task force would have full discretion to release any information that it deems is in the public interest and may be important to public safety.