During a period of unprecedented increases in chronic disease rates and deaths, the U.S. federal government has failed to respond effectively to a public health crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — institutions entrusted with the guardianship of American health — have failed to provide meaningful, effective solutions for this crisis. And while the death toll rises, each agency has exposed itself to the pernicious influence of the pharmaceutical and food/beverage industries.
Public-private partnerships, facilitated by a government agency’s affiliated foundation, can compromise the integrity of that agency’s mission, especially in the absence of transparency. The only way to ensure the veracity of the science and research coming from an organization, especially one with such attractive proximity to government influence and authority, is to know who is providing the funding and whether there are any restrictions on its expenditure.
On May 2, 2019, CrossFit, Inc. lobbyist Brett Ewer spoke at the annual meeting of the FDA’s Reagan-Udall Foundation (RUF) and demanded that RUF leadership fully produce annual funding reports, which by law must provide a specific accounting of the sources and uses of its funds. As of the date of this publication, the RUF has not produced a report meeting those requirements.
The RUF was established by the FDA Amendments Act of 2007 to promote the FDA’s mission by “identifying, funding, and supporting projects and programs that will help equip FDA staff” through “complex research collaborations involving public and private partners.” Unfortunately, this type of lofty language often translates into helping the pharmaceutical and food/beverage industries get into bed with government agencies, as has been seen time and again with such agency-associated nonprofits.
The RUF is not alone in concealing industry donations to the agency foundations that regulate or substantially affect those very industries. Last year, CrossFit, Inc. discovered the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) and CDC Foundation had both failed to comply with disclosure requirements similar to those required of the RUF. In late September 2018, Congress passed legislation reprimanding the FNIH and CDC Foundation for their noncompliance with the Public Health Service Act, directing both organizations to disclose in their annual reports “the source and amount of all monetary gifts to the Foundation(s), as well as the source and description of all gifts of real or personal property.” Since bringing this issue to Congress’ attention, CrossFit, Inc. filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the parent department of the NIH, due to the NIH’s failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning the NIH Foundation’s legally required disclosures.
This problem is systemic, and it extends to the nonprofits affiliated with other agencies and departments, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). Quasi-governmental organizations such as FFAR, RUF, FNIH, and the CDC Foundation claim to attract corporate money without capitulating to corporate influence. There’s enough evidence to counter that claim — one only need look at the scandals and controversies regarding Coca-Cola, alcohol, pharmaceutical, sugar industry, and pesticide funding at NIH and the CDC. Is such corruption any wonder, though, when federal agencies’ foundations refuse to meet even basic transparency requirements?