The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. AP file photo

Lawmakers Seek to Ensure Agencies Comply with Watchdog Review of WHO Funding Halt

They cited the Trump administration’s “history of obstruction.”

Top House lawmakers are still awaiting confirmation from several agencies that they will comply with a Government Accountability Office review of the Trump administration's withholding of funds from the World Health Organization. 

In April, President Trump announced that the United States halted funding to the WHO while the administration assessed the organization’s “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” In May, he said the U.S. would be “terminating” the relationship because “China has total control” and the WHO “refused to act” on proposed reforms. Then on Tuesday, Trump formally notified the United Nations that the United States would begin the formal withdrawal process.

Nonetheless, the GAO is still reviewing the funding hold for potential violation of the Impoundment Control Act, which prevents the executive branch from withholding funds for policy reasons and outlines a process if it seeks to delay funds appropriated by Congress. The administration previously violated the act with its hold on funding to Ukraine last year, a key feature of the impeachment investigation, GAO found in January. 

On June 29, the House Budget, Appropriations and Oversight and Reform Committee chairs wrote to the Office of Management and Budget, Health and Human Services Department, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department asking them to fully cooperate with the watchdog’s review. “We write to remind you of your legal responsibility to cooperate with GAO’s inquiry,” they wrote. Citing the administration’s “history of obstruction,” they asked for written confirmation by July 7 that the agencies will comply with GAO’s request.

As of Thursday, only EPA and USAID had responded to the lawmakers to confirm they will comply with GAO’s review, according to the House Budget Committee. 

Government Executive reached out to the other agencies; only HHS said it was “working to respond.”. 

GAO spokesman Chuck Young told Government Executive on Wednesday they’ve “received responses from some of the agencies and are awaiting responses from others.” He also said GAO will be “considering” the withdrawal in the ongoing review. 

The lawmakers also expressed concerns in their letters to USAID, State, HHS and EPA that OMB “may improperly seek to interfere with your exercise of the authorities granted to you by law or obstruct your cooperation with GAO.” Therefore, “we encourage you to reject that inappropriate effort and report it to our committees and the relevant oversight bodies,” they wrote. 

In the letter to Acting OMB Director Russell Vought, the House Democrats reminded him that “you and your staff took an oath to uphold the Constitution, as did your counterparts at the agencies responsible for implementing enacted appropriations.” Separately, Rep. John Yarmuth, R-Ky., chairman of the House Budget Committee, asked Vought on June 23 to confirm that his agency will adhere to the Impoundment Control Act as the fiscal year comes to an end on Sept. 30. Yarmuth set a July 1 deadline, but did not receive a response. 

While legal scholars question whether or not the president can decide to withdraw from the WHO without congressional approval, according to a 1948 joint resolution the United States still must give one year notice and pay its outstanding dues, NPR reported

Nevertheless, as of June 30, the United State's “assessed contribution for 2020 was still listed as unpaid on the WHO website, as were additional outstanding contributions of more than $80 million [accrued] in previous years,” according to a Statista report

Mara Pillinger, associate at Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law said, “the hold is still in place” as of Thursday. Therefore, the U.S. will have to lift the hold in order to pay the money owed.