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Trump vaccine czar will not be required to disclose pharma ties, IG rules

Trump vaccine czar will not be required to disclose pharma ties, IG rules
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The co-director of the White House's "Operation Warp Speed" will not be required to divest his investments in pharmaceutical companies and will not be subject to federal disclosure rules, according to a decision by a government watchdog.

Advocacy groups Public Citizen and Lower Drug Prices Now filed the complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) because Moncef Slaoui, who leads Operation Warp Speed, has extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

However, his position in the administration is on a contract and he is not considered a government employee. As such, he is not subject to the same federal disclosure rules that would require him to list his stock holdings.

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The groups wanted Slaoui to be classified as a government employee, or "special government employee," so he would be required to disclose all of his ties to drug companies and divest in potential conflicts of interest. 

In a brief letter to the groups announcing the decision, the inspector general focused on the definition of a "special government employee," which is a title given to an outside expert appointed for up to 130 days. 

Since Operation Warp Speed, which is searching for a coronavirus vaccine and investing federal funding in private companies to do so, will likely take longer than 130 days, the OIG said Saloui did not qualify for being classified as a special government employee.

"OIG is not in a position to determine that the Department’s decision was unreasonable when it pursued options other than an SGE appointment for Mr. Slaoui’s advisory services for this operation," the letter said.

Slaoui is a venture capitalist and a former longtime executive at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Most recently, he sat on the board of biotechnology company Moderna, which is receiving hundreds of millions in government funding to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

He resigned from the board just before taking the administration job. However, according to Securities and Exchanges Commission filings, Slaoui still held more than 156,000 stock options in the company. At the time of his appointment to lead Operation Warp Speed, the shares were worth about $10 million.

In a statement, Margarida Jorge, campaign director for Lower Drug Prices Now, said the group has no faith that Slaoui will act ethically.

"There is no reason to believe that Mr. Slaoui will operate any differently than the many other former Pharma executives who litter the administration and consistently protect the interests of their industry allies over public health and patients," Jorge said.