House Republicans Probe Allegations of Political Interference in Agencies' COVID-19 Work
The Biden administration has "cast aside" an advisory panel related to vaccines, lawmaker alleges.
A top House Republican is accusing the Biden administration of putting its desired policy outcomes regarding COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of the scientific work at its agencies, saying the approach amounts to improper political influence.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, is once again investigating allegations of sidelining scientific work, asking the Food and Drug Administration for detailed information about its decision-making process surrounding booster shot guidance. Comer previously requested similar information in September, but said FDA did not respond. Now, Comer is seeking additional information on communications between the White House, FDA and its vaccine advisory committee.
The request follows the retirement of FDA's two top career vaccine officials, who stepped down amid reports some agency officials disagreed with the Biden administration's approach in aggressively pushing booster shots. The White House got out front of the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in announcing it would recommend the boosters. The agencies subsequently approved booster shots for teenagers without first convening the advisory panel.
“The panel was not going to do the White House’s bidding so instead of engaging in a robust scientific dialogue, the Biden administration made the calculated political decision to entirely cast aside the panel,” Comer alleged.
FDA did not respond to a request for comment.
President Biden has emphasized the importance of scientific integrity at federal agencies, promising to root out any political interference in the work of career scientists. He created a task force to improve scientific integrity policies across government, which recently issued its first set of recommendations.
“Reports continue to surface raising concerns about White House politicization of the FDA,” Comer said, adding the administration’s approach to approving booster shots “undermine[s] the integrity of our public health system and cause[s] vaccine hesitancy.”
Comer is seeking communications related to the FDA’s approval of the shots, including “any effort by political appointees or White House personnel to review, revise, edit, delay, or prohibit publication of information related to booster shots.” He also requested information related to the retirements of Marion Gruber and Phil Krause, the two FDA vaccine experts who stepped down.
The Biden administration previously faced allegations of improper political influence when it took an unusually aggressive approach to clean house at the top career executive level within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, including by offering separation incentives and launching investigations into staff members.
Robert Califf, a former FDA commissioner who Biden has tapped to again lead FDA, recently told lawmakers at a confirmation hearing that he trusts the FDA workforce “to make good decisions,” based on the latest data and scientific policies.
“‘Trust once lost is hard to regain.’ That’s an old statement and I think it’s true,” Califf said. “We’re going to have to be much more aggressively outgoing and work on every single aspect of transparency that we can.”