“The report contains evidence that ASPR used BARDA’s … funds — funds intended for the development of public health countermeasures, like vaccines — to pay for the removal of ASPR office furniture, ASPR administrative expenses and news subscriptions, legal services used by ASPR, ASPR’s internal resource management system, and the salaries of personnel who did not work for BARDA,” the letter states.
CNN has reached out to HHS for comment about the report.
Kerner said the probe by HHS’ inspector general into the complaint found that in misusing the funds, ASPR had violated the Purpose Statute, which states that “appropriations must be applied only to the objects for which the appropriations were made except as otherwise provided by law,” and potentially violated at least one other federal law.
The misuse of funds was so widespread at ASPR, Kerner wrote, “that there was a name for it within the agency: ‘Bank of BARDA.'”
“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,” he wrote in the letter. “Equally concerning is how widespread and well-known this practice appeared to be for nearly a decade.”
Kerner said HHS’ assistant secretary for financial resources and its Office of General Counsel have started a review of the agency’s use of BARDA funding from 2015 through 2019 “to identify potential” violations of the Antideficiency Act and that the review should be completed by this summer. The assistant secretary has also employed an outside accounting firm to help audit the use of BARDA funding in recent years.
CNN’s Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.