Funding will continue to be withheld from a military laboratory at Fort Detrick and one at Aberdeen Proving Ground until the laboratories meet conditions set by the Department of Defense.
The three conditions — one of which is that the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases regains full operational status — were part of a memorandum sent by the deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment approximately a month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention halted research in USAMRIID’s biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories. The News-Post obtained the memorandum Monday.
In the memorandum sent on Sept. 24, 2019, Alan Shaffer, the deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, wrote that the Chemical and Biological Defense Program allocated a “ceiling of $104,346K, but we will withhold distribution of these funds until the following criteria are met to my satisfaction.”
The criteria are:
- The laboratories come back online and are operational.
- USAMRDC needs to put business plans, internal controls and processes in place, which will ensure proper fiscal controls, auditability and “sustainability of the capabilities and associated workforce.”
- USAMRDC needs to create a plan for the “traceability of funded research efforts and associated milestones” so that the Chemical and Biological Defense Program does not pay for the same work twice.
USAMRIID resumed partial operations in November. But it was the second time in two years that the laboratory shut down, which meant researchers could not complete the work they were doing for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program, said Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, Department of Defense spokesman, in a statement.
“To date ... some of the research projects impacted by the CDC shutdown have not yet been completed and the associated funds have not been recouped by the [Chemical and Biological Defense Program],” Andrews said in the statement.
The first shutdown of USAMRIID came in May 2018 after heavy rain and flooding that damaged the steam sterilization plant at Fort Detrick. The second came in July 2019, after the CDC found several lapses in biosafety during inspections.
USAMRICD was never shut down, a USAMRDC spokeswoman said in an email.
The Army started investigations at USAMRIID and USAMRDC in July, Andrews said. The Inspector General learned of potential financial mismanagement at the Army medical research laboratories around the same time.
“These events prompted the Department [of Defense] to begin working closely with the Army to identify institutional corrections to address these concerns and increase accountability of dollars spent at the laboratories,” Andrews said in the statement.
USAMRDC leadership feels that it addressed all three criteria from the September memo, a spokeswoman said in a statement.
USAMRDC addressed the first condition because USAMRIID was approved to work on specific projects as it progresses toward full operational capacity, the spokeswoman said.
For the second condition, USAMRDC created and put in place a plan of action and milestones for oversight of its financials and business.
“This plan includes processes, policies and leadership reviews that will ensure clearer fiscal control and auditability,” the spokeswoman said in the email.
USARMDC also developed internal controls that involve leadership oversight and review measures, which will show traceability and accountability of funded research efforts, a requirement of the third condition, she said.
“Without the allocated funding, USAMRDC cannot sustain current capabilities at either the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense (USAMRICD) or the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID),” the spokeswoman said in the email. “The long-term degradation or loss of capability from two of the premier DOD research laboratories directly impacts the DOD and Nation’s ability to timely respond to chemical, infectious disease and other medical based threats to national security.”
The Department of Defense will update members of the Maryland delegation, who wrote a letter last week to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, about USAMRDC’s progress for meeting the three criteria, Andrews said.
Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) spoke with Department of Defense officials on Monday about releasing the roughly $104 million in funding, they said in a statement.
The two senators were told that additional funding would be released this week for lab operations and that the DoD officials did not want to affect the workforce while the Army provided the sought-after financial and safety information.
“We share the goal of greater transparency and knowledge; however, this should not jeopardize the mission and essential surge capacity needed for such marquee biological and chemical defense labs,” the senators said in the statement.