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Government watchdog to investigate allegations of Trump interference at CDC, FDA

Government watchdog to investigate allegations of Trump interference at CDC, FDA
© Greg Nash

An independent government watchdog will investigate the Trump administration's alleged political interference with public health agencies, Democratic senators announced Monday.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it had accepted a request from Democratic Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? Alito to far-right litigants: The buffet is open MORE (Mass.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition DOJ investigation into Epstein deal ends without recommended action The Hill's 12:30 Report: What to know about the Pfizer vaccine announcement MORE (Wash.) and Gary PetersGary PetersLeadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns Hillicon Valley: Peters criticizes deficient healthcare cybersecurity investment | Apple defends delay of data privacy feature | Children groups warn about Parler Peters criticizes Trump for not taking action after cyberattacks on hospitals, COVID-19 researchers MORE (Mich.) to review whether the scientific integrity and communications policies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been violated, and "whether those policies are being implemented as intended to assure scientific integrity throughout the agency."

The senators requested the investigation earlier this month, following numerous reports of political meddling in the COVID-19 response at both CDC and FDA. 

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"The CDC and FDA’s independence as scientific agencies is crucial to safeguarding the public health and saving lives. These agencies must be able to develop, review, and disseminate public health data, guidelines, and other information that are based on science, facts, and medical principles—and not the political imperatives and moods of a president and his advisors," the Democrats said in their request. 

Political officials have reportedly pressured agency scientists to revise, remove or delay key CDC recommendations, and have allegedly interfered in the publication of agency research reports viewed as undermining President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE’s message that the pandemic is under control.

The administration also reportedly tried to block the FDA from issuing more stringent guidance for manufacturers of a potential coronavirus vaccine. Trump has repeatedly said a vaccine would be ready for distribution in time for Election Day, despite public comments from health officials, drug manufacturers and outside experts.  

Trump has also publicly pressured CDC and FDA officials in the past. The president called for the emergency authorization of the use of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, despite scant evidence. The agency eventually revoked the authorization. 

In August, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, FDA issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19.

"The GAO's decision to conduct an independent audit is a good first step towards making sure that guidance coming from federal agencies is based on science and facts, not on the Trump Administration's political agenda or the President's whims," the senators said in a statement. 

GAO said the investigation is expected to take about three months.