How the National Institutes of Health Became a Den of Godfathers

How the National Institutes of Health Became a Den of Godfathers

For too long, bureaucrats at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have lined their pockets through collusion with large corporations, acquiescing to the very entities they are charged with overseeing.

In an age where trust in our public institutions is alarmingly low, this is not just a minor oversight; it is an outright epidemic of corruption. Shockingly, over 55,000 royalty payments have been overlooked in the last decade alone. Any undisclosed royalty payment is a potential conflict of interest, undermining trust in our institutions and undermining the trust of the American people.

Open the Books 2022’s explosive revelations shed light on this den of cronyism. It was revealed that over the past decade, more than 2,400 NIH scientists pocketed a whopping $325 million in royalty payments, an average of $135,000 per person. Yet, the details of these love affairs remain hidden in the shadows with vital information redacted by public opinion.

Despite attempts to release these details, NIH has refused to release essential information, including the amounts of the individual payments and the identity of the payers.

In June 2022, my Republican colleagues on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee sent a letter to NIH requesting information regarding these royalty payments. But the NIH has resisted, saying it is above disclosing such details. It is this kind of arrogance that fuels mistrust and raises legitimate concerns about whose interests our government agencies really serve.

When I directly challenged Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the compensation paid by vaccine manufacturers to members of vaccine approval committees, Fauci argued that the law protects scientists from disclosing their compensation. The implications of these undisclosed payments extend far beyond mere bureaucratic secrecy. They cast a long shadow over the impartiality of our regulatory processes.

Moderna’s $400 million payments to NIH, Dartmouth and Scripps universities will make it challenging for NIH scientists to treat Moderna objectively.

NIH’s potential gain from future royalties for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is the icing on this conflict-of-interest cake, raising serious concerns about the integrity of our regulatory processes. This is not just about financial transparency; it is to ensure that public health decisions are made in the best interests of the American people, untainted by the prospect of financial gain.

The lack of transparency surrounding these payments is downright alarming. Americans deserve to know who is paying whom, how much, and for what. The current ordeal of accessing public inspection reports—jumping through bureaucratic hoops, facing delays and confusion—is an insult to the American people and a hotbed of corruption.

To address these issues, I introduced the Copyright Transparency Act of 2024, which has now passed the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on a bipartisan vote. This bill would reduce secrecy by requiring executive branch officials to disclose all royalty payments received for government-developed inventions. It would also require agencies to post those financial disclosures online, bypassing the current red tape blocking public access to information. No more hiding behind bureaucracy.

Additionally, the act would force the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Board and the Office of Management and Budget to require federal grant and contract applicants to disclose all royalty payments made to the government over the past decade. The crux of the matter is transparency. Without it, we cannot hope to maintain the integrity of our research and regulatory frameworks or the trust of the American people.

Transparency is not just a buzzword – it is the foundation of a functioning democracy. It is time to lift the veil of secrecy and hold accountable the actions of our government agencies and their employees. Only through transparency can we begin to restore trust and ensure that our institutions serve the public good, not the financial interests of a privileged few.

We need to question conflicts of interest. We need to consider whether those who distribute government subsidies might be inclined to favor companies that offer them rewards. The push for royalty transparency has been a long time coming.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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