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Vaccine project contract raises questions about transparency

HHS officials said Slaoui had agreed to a housing and hotel fee that would be about $ 17,000 between May and August 22, 2020, and that the contract – which was awarded to a company called Advanced Decision Vectors and could exceed $ 684,000 – maximum that the government could pay and, but not necessarily what it would pay. Slaoui lived in the Philadelphia before joining Operation Warp Speed.

“Any funds that have not been used to reimburse Dr. Slaoui for housing or hotel expenses will be returned to the United States government,” said a senior official. HHS said it could not share details of Notaristefani’s salary because it was proprietary information.

Details about the contract were posted publicly to USASpending.gov, with a launch date of May 15, the same day Trump announced the selection of Slaoui in the Rose Garden. “Consultant will provide expert advice on the development and mass production of new Covid-19 vaccine candidates, therapeutics and diagnostics, and advise HHS on coordination between ASPR, NIH and FDA, the above-mentioned act,” the contract description said.

The New York Times first reported that Slaoui’s personal expenses were covered by a contractor.

HHS said Slaoui had “no involvement whatsoever” in hiring other consultants hired through the contract and that De Notaristefani’s role in Operation Warp Speed ​​was older than Slaoui’s involvement.

Democrats have been asking persistent questions about why the Trump administration brought in Slaoui as a contractor and not as a special government official, which would open him up to additional disclosures and ethical requirements.

“It appears the administration has come up with an unusual arrangement for Dr. Slaoui in a blatant attempt to circumvent federal ethical law,” Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) And Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) And Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) wrote to HHS last month.

For example, Slaoui owned more than 155,000 shares in Moderna, which three days after Slaoui was appointed top advisor, announced positive news about a potential coronavirus vaccine. The news increased the value of Slaoui’s Moderna stock by about $ 2.4 million, although an HHS spokesperson said Slaoui immediately shed the $ 2.4 million in profits and donated it to charity.

Slaoui, who has been with GlaxoSmithKline for a long time, still owns an unknown number of shares in the pharmaceutical company, which participate in the development of various potential vaccines and received up to $ 2.1 billion on Friday, to be shared with its partner Sanofi, in Operation Warp Speed’s biggest deal yet.

Citizens and lower drug prices now had claimed to the Inspector General of the HHS that Slaoui, who serves as a private contractor, should be regarded as a political appointee who would open him to new revelations and protection against conflicts of interest. But the Inspector General rejected the complaint this month, telling the groups in a follow-up letter on Friday that it lacked the authority to change Slaoui’s job classification.

The Slaoui scheme has also raised questions about whether it is appropriate for a contractor to play such an important role in the federal government’s vaccine. Slaoui has maintained that as a consultant he only gives advice and does not make decisions.

“I think that’s incredible,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, who helped make the recent claim against Slaoui and said he would file a second complaint with the Office of Personnel Management next week. “He is co-director of Operation Warp Speed. He holds one of the most powerful positions in the current federal government. The idea that he can’t charge anyone with anything is incredible. “

“If he is a contractor, he cannot direct any federal employee,” added a former senior HHS official. “If he’s not directing any federal employee, ask if he can actually do his job?”