October 30, 2020

Warren, Blumenthal, Jayapal, and Porter Press Vaccine Czar Dr. Moncef Slaoui on His Still Unresolved Conflicts of Interest

Latest letter follows stunning admissions by Dr. Slaoui in a New York Times interview in which he admits his financial dependence on GlaxoSmithKline holdings and describes his role as a key Operation Warp Speed decision-maker; "This is a textbook case of a conflict of interest that could affect key decisions and damage OWS's scientific integrity and the race for a vaccine."

Text of Letter (PDF)

Warren-Porter Letter to GSA Watchdog (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-Calif.) today pressed Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the top advisor to the Trump Administration's COVID-19 vaccine research and development efforts at Operation Warp Speed (OWS), regarding his still unresolved financial conflicts of interest and the unusual consulting arrangement that allows him to avoid disclosing or resolving these conflicts. The lawmakers again asked Dr. Slaoui to fully resolve these matters in order to ensure the public's confidence in any vaccines developed by OWS. 

Dr. Slaoui formerly worked at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and holds and refuses to sell his stock in GSK and refuses to fully disclose the value of his financial holdings, including his GSK assets. GSK secured a federal contact of up to $2.1 billion through OWS to supply 100 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine, the biggest vaccine deal yet. Dr. Slaoui reportedly continues to hold leadership positions with SutroVax, Medicxi, and Galvani Bioelectronics, and he previously served on the board of drug manufacturer Moderna. To avoid having to fully disclose or resolve these conflicts, Dr. Slaoui currently works for the federal government as a contractor with Advance Decisions Vectors, LLC., which pays him very little.

"This unusual contractual arrangement appears to be a blatant attempt to skirt federal ethics law so that you can serve in this position without selling, or even disclosing the value of, your financial holdings and other possible conflicts of interest, using a loophole that exempts federal contractors, but not executive branch officers and employees, from relevant ethics laws and regulations," the lawmakers wrote

However, to make this contracting loophole work, Dr. Slaoui cannot perform "inherently government functions," barring him from a broad category of activities, including "decisions that are reserved to federal officials" and "decisions with respect to licensing products, awarding grants, or federal contacts." However, in an October 5, 2020 interview with the New York Times, Dr. Slaoui described his role as a decision-maker, indicating that he is playing a significant and influential role in OWS decisions that is not consistent with federal contracting rules or the requirements of his consulting contract.

Dr. Slaoui also said in The Times same interview that he will not divest from his GSK stock because "that's really my retirement. ...I want to use that dividend... for me, a steady income is important." 

"This is a stunning admission, and its implication is a perfect example of why your conflicts of interest are a serious matter: your financial future is intricately linked to GSK, a participant in OWS," wrote the lawmakers. "This is a textbook case of a conflict of interest that could affect key decisions and damage OWS's scientific integrity and the race for a vaccine."

The lawmakers concluded: "Your ability to comply with conflict of interest requirements is not an academic matter - as you have indicated, it has significant financial implications for you, and more importantly, your failure to address your conflicts places the entire OWS enterprise at risk, raising questions about every decision in which you are involved in your role as chief scientist.  We would have no objections to your serving in this role and contributing your expertise if you simply resolved your obvious and impermissible financial conflicts. But if you are unwilling or unable to address your conflicts, then you should not be serving as part of OWS."

Senator Warren and Congresswoman Porter also requested today an investigation from a government watchdog into the contracting process and terms through which Dr. Moncef Slaoui was hired by Advanced Decision Vectors, LLC.

In June 2020, Senators Warren and Blumenthal and Congresswoman Jayapal introduced the Coronavirus Oversight and Recovery Ethics (CORE) Act, which would address and eliminate conflicts of interest related to the federal pandemic response, in part by requiring advisors involved in pandemic response such as Dr. Slaoui to file public reports detailing their financial interests.