Senators call for hearing on defense department's role in Operation Warp Speed

Two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote a letter urging the committee to hold a hearing on the U.S. Department of Defense's role in Operation Warp Speed, the White House task force to develop and distribute a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, sent the letter to the committee's chairman, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and its ranking member, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. 

The letter, dated Oct. 23, calls for a Senate hearing requiring officials from the defense department answer questions about how the department is distributing congressionally appropriated funds for Operation Warp Speed through contacts and procurement. The senators allege the department may be awarding contracts in a way that eschews regulations and clouds transparency.

"There may well be a valuable role for DoD officials in OWS – particularly given the department's logistical capacity," Ms. Warren and Ms. Hirono wrote. "But it is important that Congress conduct appropriate oversight of, and understand, DoD’s activities in this area. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has held two hearings with administration officials from FDA, CDC, and other public health agencies. The Committee should similarly hear from DoD officials about their role in OWS."

The letter comes less than a month after STAT obtained an organizational chart of Operation Warp Speeds leaders that revealed about two-thirds of the program's leaders are employed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

In their letter, the senators express concern about the chart as well as a recent NPR report that says the defense department has awarded more than $6 billion of Operation Warp Speed's contracts through defense contractor Advanced Technologies' International. The senators said that having Advanced Technologies' International contract with drugmakers working on COVID-19 vaccines helps the defense department avoid meeting regulatory requirements.

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