Dem senator critical of administration's no-bid contract for smallpox vaccine

The Obama administration's health agency is coming under increasing pressure about its no-bid contract to a smallpox vaccine manufacturer with ties to White House allies.

The chairwoman of the Senate panel on Contracting Oversight on Wednesday reiterated her concern about the $443 million contract for an experimental drug for smallpox, a threat some health experts think has been blown out of proportion. Speaking at a press conference Wednesday where she unveiled legislation to ban earmarks, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said the contract with drugmaker Siga Technologies raised concerns.

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"It's a no-bid contract over $250 million," she said. "That's always going to get my attention."

The comments come after McCaskill on Monday called for an inspector general investigation into the contract. The Republican chairman of the House Oversight panel, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has separately requested that the Obama administration turn over documents relating to the contract.

The company's controlling shareholder is Ronald Perelman, a billionaire who's a top donor to the Democratic Party. McCaskill, who has been trying to distance herself from liberals in her party in the face of a tough reelection next year, declined to speculate about whether she thought the contract had been improperly awarded.

"I'm not going to comment about people drawing conclusions about the appearances in this contract," she said. "I want to get into the facts, and that is … was it justified as a no-bid contract? Overall we need to be asking policy questions about the kind of money we're spending on developing drugs."