By Beyza Binnur Donmez
ANKARA (AA) - Millions of dollars intended for use in responding to public health emergencies like Ebola, Zika, and COVID-19 has been "misappropriated,” a federal watchdog said in a report released Wednesday.
The report by the Office of Special Counsel accused Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) cautioned of potentially violating the Antideficiency Act by using Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a department under US Health and Human Services (HHS), for “non- BARDA purposes."
"ASPR also potentially augmented other ASPR appropriations with BARDA funds," it said.
The 223-page report does not specify the amount of funding that was misappropriated but it details the misuse of funds since fiscal year 2010, under former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations.
Special Counsel Henry Kerner said Wednesday in a letter to President Joe Biden that as recently as 2019, federal officials at the preparedness office inappropriately took $25 - $26 million belonging to BARDA.
Between fiscal years 2007 and 2016, ASPR failed to demonstrate that $517.8 million meant for BARDA were used for their appropriated purposes, Kerner noted.
"HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response funneled so much money from BARDA, which oversees the nation’s vaccine programs, to its own coffers 'that there was a name for it within the agency: 'Bank of BARDA,'" he said.
"I am deeply concerned about ASPR's apparent misuse of millions of dollars in funding meant for public health emergencies like the one our country is currently facing with the COVID-19 pandemic," Kerner said. "Equally concerning is how widespread and well-known this practice appeared to be for nearly a decade."
"I urge Congress and HHS to take immediate actions to ensure funding for public health emergencies can no longer be used as a slush-fund for unrelated expenses," Kerner said in a separate statement.