WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is joining Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) in introducing the National Biosecurity Improvement Act, legislation to ensure federally-funded research involving potentially dangerous pathogens does not compromise national security.
“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we need more transparency surrounding federal agencies’ funding of various research, particularly regarding potentially dangerous pathogens. This bill will increase oversight and help ensure research is conducted safely and securely, both in the United States and overseas, to protect the safety of Iowans and all Americans,” said Senator Ernst.
“The more we learn about the potential origins of the coronavirus pandemic, the more questions we have about the role of state actors and even our own government in researching dangerous pathogens. As we continue to investigate, Americans deserve answers on the extent to which the U.S. government engages in or funds risky research and what policies are in place to ensure it is done safely and in a way that doesn’t jeopardize our national security. This bill brings about much-needed transparency into the government’s policies and past actions regarding such risky research,” said Senator Grassley.
“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed many vulnerabilities in our federal programs, but none has been more troubling than the type of dangerous research we fund and the international partners that are involved,” said Senator Marshall. “I believe we need to put a full moratorium in place on gain-of-function, we also need our watchdog agency to look under the hood and evaluate HHS’ policies that could jeopardize global public health. If this research is to continue, we need to understand how to do so safely, put proper protections in place and ensure federal agencies are held accountable to the American people.”
The legislation would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a program evaluation on the following:
1. How federal agencies that fund research involving the enhancement of potential pandemic pathogens and related risky research with potentially dangerous pathogens, ensure this research is conducted safely and securely and without compromising national security.
2. Efforts to establish a common domestic and international approach to ensuring the safety and security of research involving the enhancement of potential pandemic pathogens and related risky research with potentially dangerous pathogens.
3. The extent these agencies consider national security information when making decisions about federal funding to support research in other countries.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ernst has been pushing for answers about its origins and transparency around the dangerous experiments conducted at China’s state-run Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) funded with U.S. taxpayer money:
· In June, Ernst put forward legislation to cut off funding to EcoHealth Alliance, a taxpayer-supported nonprofit that’s conducted coronavirus experiments in China but has refused to provide information to the public, in violation of federal law.
· In May, Ernst successfully banned any additional U.S. funding from going to China’s WIV.
· Last month, Ernst introduced the FAUCI Act, which calls for a full accounting of how and where U.S. tax dollars are being spent, a complete ban on funding of “gain-of-function” research in Communist China, and restrictions on government officials who intentionally mislead Congress.
· Ernst and Marshall, along with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), unveiled legislation that would create a congressional commission to conduct an investigation on the COVID-19 outbreak and identify lessons learned regarding preparedness, response, and recovery.