Whitewash: CDC report misses the
Call it a whitewash, a cover-up....I call it an
inappropriate and wholly inadequate response to the issue.
By Joseph P. Lane
Imagine the following scenario. You instruct a stockbroker to invest your savings in
a certain stock
because you know that stock will yield the returns you seek. Once per year you check in with the stockbroker
and he assures you the money is invested as you instructed and is doing fine, although he wonít give you
an annual statement for verification.
After several years of increasing concern, you send
an attorney to get a statement. Under oath, the stockbroker swears your investment is doing fine but again
wonít provide a detailed statement. Finally, you receive a tip from a reliable source that your broker
is lying. You call the police and they investigate. The police report is repeatedly delayed, while the
police negotiate the reportís wording with the stockbrokerís firm.
The final police report acknowledges that the money was not invested as you asked, that
there had been
no return on the investment, and that your stockbroker had been lying all along. The report concludes
that in the future every stockbroker get training on how to issue an annual statement. The police report
does not charge your stockbroker with an offense. In fact, your stockbroker remains in charge of your
funds! The report does not even remedy the situation because it fails to suggest that your money be recovered
and invested as you had first instructed!
Would you be grateful to the police and satisfied
with the police report?
Would you be wrong to demand an investigation of the police investigation,
punishment for the stockbroker and a return of your funds?
This is essentially the position
the CFIDS community is in, following the report released May 12 by June Gibbs Brown, Inspector General,
Department of Health and Human Services. The report concludes that $8.8 million that the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) was supposed to spend on research into chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) was
unequivocally charged to non CFS-related activities--a blatant violation of the wishes of Congress, our
expectations and the CDCís repeated assurances. That represented 39% of the CDCís budget for CFS. Another
$4.1 million (18%) could not be accurately accounted for, either for CFS or non-CFS-related activities.
Unfortunately, the report focuses most of its attention on the internal control problems that prevented
an unequivocal determination on the $4.1 million and remedial actions to correct these internal control
Internal control problems are an important issue. The Inspector Generalís report
indicates that the problems are agency-wide. They should be remedied. However, internal control problems
only enable improprieties such as the improper diversion and misuse of funds, by failing to detect them
as they occur. Internal controls do not cause the improper diversion and misuse of funds. That
is done by the willful actions of individuals in positions of authority. Dr. William Reeves did not blow
the whistle on internal controls problems; he reported the deliberate misuse of funds. Unfortunately,
the report is silent on the cause and effect of the misspent $8.8 million and fails to suggest any corrective
action to restore the funding or sanction those responsible.
The Inspector Generalís report
states in boldface type on page 7, "Unacceptable Charges to the CFS Program: $8.8 million."
Pages 7-10 detail those unacceptable charges. However, these pages do not mention cause and effect. However,
on page 10 the report states in boldface type, "Undocumented Charges to the CFS Program: $4.1
million." Pages 10-12 detail those undocumented charges. In contrast to the unacceptable charges,
this section does clearly state in boldface capital letters, "CAUSE--INEFFECTIVE INTERNAL CONTROLS"
and later "EFFECT--CDC PROVIDED INACCURATE DATA TO CONGRESS AND DID NOT SPEND CFS FUNDS ACCORDING
TO CONGRESSIONAL EXPECTATIONS."
The report does not clearly distinguish between
the $8.8 million identified as spent on non-CFS-related research and the $4.1 million in undocumented
charges. The report repeatedly refers to "questionable charges" but it is not clear to the reader if these
are the total $12.9 million or only the undocumented charges. However, the remedies suggested only address
the issues of internal controls, staff training and indirect cost allocation systems.
short, the Inspector Generalís report ignores the alleged willful actions of CDC employees to misdirect
at least $8.8 million in CFS-related funds and then lie under oath to Congress.
Call it a
whitewash, a cover-up or yet another CDC misdirection of resources. I call it an inappropriate and wholly
inadequate response to the issue at hand. It is an affront to The CFIDS Association of America, which
withstood abuse to expose this problem. It is an insult to the whistleblower, and it sends the wrong message
to other government officials who witness violations. It is also an insult to people with CFIDS, to their
families and friends, and to their elected officials who took every action to ensure funding was directed
to CFS-related research.
The DHHS Office of Inspector General has demonstrated that it is
unable to fully investigate and resolve this internal matter. In fairness, an investigation of employee
actions and the restitution of funds may be beyond the Inspector Generalís scope of review. Nevertheless,
it is now up to the General Accounting Office to establish cause and effect concerning the $8.8 million
expended in non CFS-related research, and to take appropriate action. The people responsible for the inappropriate
allocation of federal funds, and for lying to Congress must be held accountable. This is the only means
to safeguard our nationís investment in CFS-related research--and in research directed to any other illness.
Inspector Generalís report demonstrates the necessity of a GAO audit of costs charged to the Chronic Fatigue
Syndrome Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fortunately, the GAO has agreed to
undertake this audit (see "DC Dispatch" in this issue). It should now proceed
quickly, as CFIDS researchers have already lost years of valuable time.
Joseph Lane, whose wife, Jill, has been disabled by CFIDS, is a research administrator
at the State
University of New York at Buffalo. He serves on the Medical Research Advisory Committee of The CFIDS Association