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Ernst on Misspent Tax Dollars Meant for Pandemic Response

Following a report that bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) participated in a “widespread and well-known” scheme misspending millions of taxpayer dollars over a decade, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is introducing legislation to hold these bad actors accountable. The misspent funds were intended for the development and procurement of vaccines, drugs, therapies, and other medical countermeasures needed to respond to public health emergencies—like a pandemic.

“As we continue to battle the greatest public health emergency in recent history, it is appalling to learn that Washington bureaucrats have spent the last decade using money intended to respond to something like COVID-19 for their own personal piggy bank—wasting your money, instead, on moving fees and salaries. This is criminal, and it’s why Congress should take action to create more transparency and accountability and ultimately to help prevent future abuse of Iowans’ tax dollars,” said Senator Ernst.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel recently issued a report finding that, for the past decade, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regularly raided the budget of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA.

The BARDA money—intended for the development and procurement of vaccines, drugs, therapies and other medical countermeasures needed to respond to public health emergencies—was instead abused as a type of piggy bank by bureaucrats to pay for other, unrelated purposes, like moving office furniture, news subscriptions, legal services, and salaries of personnel who did not even work for the agency. The report found that the “practice of using BARDA funds for non-BARDA purposes was so common, that there was a name for it within the agency: ‘Bank of BARDA.’”

Ernst’s bill—the Federal Actors Lying Should be Eliminated Act (FALSE) Act—would terminate federal employees who knowingly and willfully misspend federal funds and lie to Congress and the public about how the money was spent.

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