Biden Budget Proposals Funnel Huge Sums to Organizations with Close Ties to Senior Officials

Biden Budget Proposals Funnel Huge Sums to Organizations with Close Ties to Senior Officials

  • April 20, 2022

Hundreds of millions earmarked to NGOs raises conflict of interest concerns

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust raised concerns about unusual budget earmarks for two non-governmental organizations slated to receive more than three-quarters of a billion dollars. Both organizations have direct connections to senior officials related to the funding.

A March 28, 2022 White House Fact Sheet indicated the Administration intends to award “$500 million over five years to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI) to support innovating science and technological capabilities to shorten the cycle for development of safe, effective, and affordable vaccines.” The largest agency recipient of funds under the broader appropriation is HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). Ironically enough, the Assistant Secretary of ASPR is Dawn O’Connell, who was the U.S. Director of CEPI immediately before joining the Administration.

Just ten days later, on April 7, 2022, the White House published another Fact Sheet describing additional funding for vaccine preparedness. This document specifically identified an additional organization – Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, also with ties to a high-ranking administration official – to earmark for funding. The budget proposal apparently sets aside an appropriation of $290 million for Gavi, which formerly employed Natasha Bilimoria, the current Deputy Assistant Administrator at the Bureau for Global Health at the US Administration for International Development (USAID). As part of her duties at Gavi, Ms. Bilimoria “served as Gavi’s senior-most executive and spokesperson in the United States,” including “advocating in Congress for $4 billion for Gavi’ s COVID-19 vaccine activities.” Ms. Bilimoria was granted a waiver allowing her to “participate in COVID-19 related matters in which Gavi is involved.”

Questions about the budget process, including the non-competitive nature of the decision to earmark funds for Ms. O’Connell and Ms. Bilimoria’s former employers, and the possible involvement of the two senior officials in the funding deliberations deserve further scrutiny by congressional and federal investigators. 

“The Gavi/Bilimoria and CEPI/O’Connell fact patterns are the exact types of scenarios that gave rise to four alarm fires in the previous administration,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “But, in this case, they appear to have been met with mild applause by supporters and crickets among good government groups that were once laser-focused on even the most tangential threads that could create a potential conflict of interest. The double-standard that exists is a major reason for the American public’s lack of trust in its government.”