Published on The Weekly Standard (

The Blame-Deflection Game

The Scrapbook

October 27, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 07

The Ebola outbreak understandably has Americans on edge. How the Obama administration has redefined the expectations of government competency for even the most cynical among us has a lot to do with it. Rather than stepping up to meet a potential health crisis, the government is instead deflecting blame. “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready,” National Institutes of Health head Dr. Francis Collins said last week. And we presume the Ready for Hillary crowd isn’t ready to stop Ebola; Clinton is also blaming a lack of funding for impeding the ability to combat the disease.

As with nearly every governmental problem we face, more money is not the answer. It’s true that over the last 10 years, NIH funding has risen from $28.03 billion to “only” $29.31 billion. However, Collins neglects to mention that from 2000 to 2004, the NIH’s budget spiked by 58 percent. As for whether that money is well spent combating public health threats, NIH waste is not hard to come by. Just to scratch the surface, the agency recently spent $175,000 funding a study on how cocaine affects the sex lives of quail, $500,000 to send text messages in “gay lingo” to methamphetamine addicts, and $1.5 million to study obesity among lesbians. The waste is not confined to NIH, either. The Weekly Standard reported last year that the Centers for Disease Control, which presumably should also be fighting Ebola, was using part of its $12.5 billion Obamacare slush fund to campaign for tougher state liquor laws. A 19-month investigation by watchdog Cause of Action concluded the use of these funds violated the law and was “a front for lobbying, government propaganda, and cronyism.” 

Then there’s Dr. Nicole Lurie, the Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary for preparedness and response. It’s specifically her job to “lead the nation in preventing, responding to and recovering from the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters, ranging from hurricanes to bioterrorism,” including, of course, pandemics. Mollie Hemingway at the Federalist reports that Lurie was involved in steering federal dollars to Siga, a pharmaceutical company owned by billionaire and notable Obama donor Ron Perelman. And as it happens, the former Service Employees International Union head, one of the Democratic party’s biggest donors, was also on Siga’s board.

Siga has since declared bankruptcy following the breach of a licensing agreement, and the smallpox drug it was supposed to deliver to the government hasn’t panned out. Siga’s sole-source government contract was hotly contested by another pharmaceutical company, Chimerix. That company’s antiviral drug, Brincido-fovir, has proven far more successful as a smallpox treatment. And it’s also shown some promise as a treatment for—you guessed it—Ebola. So far, Brincidofovir has been given to two Ebola patients. One of those patients, Thomas Eric Duncan, died. But the other patient, NBC cameraman Ashoka Mukpo, appears to be recovering. Meanwhile, Dr. Lurie has been almost completely missing in action from news reports about the government’s efforts to combat Ebola. The Scrapbook can speculate about how she’s filling her time, but we bet it’s not consumed with scouring the couch cushions at various federal health agencies looking for spare change to fight Ebola.

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