During Sunshine Week, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) spoke on the Senate floor to discuss her ongoing efforts to increase transparency and accountability in the federal government. Ernst noted that a transparent government is one of the most fundamental principles that makes our government – of the people, by the people, for the people – work.
Senator Ernst’s full remarks are below:
“It’s been a year now since the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China put the world into an unprecedented global lockdown—and we are still in the dark about how the pandemic even began.
“Folks, that isn’t entirely an accident.
“The virus emerged in one of the world’s most closed societies ruled by a ruthless authoritarian regime with no tolerance for truth or transparency.
“And even today, after two and a half million people around the world have died, The Communist Party of China refuses to fully cooperate with efforts to learn how COVID-19 made the cross-species jump from bats to humans.
“Finding the source isn’t about assigning blame, it is about understanding the cause and preventing a similar occurrence from happening again.
“Here is what we do know:
“COVID appeared in the vicinity of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a laboratory where studies were being conducted on bat coronaviruses.
“After the outbreak began, Chinese officials ordered the destruction of coronavirus samples.
“In the months just prior to the first case of the new pathogen being publicly identified, researchers at this state-run lab reportedly became sick with COVID-like symptoms.
“Years ago, U.S. officials who visited the Institute sent warnings back to the State Department that studies were being conducted on dangerous coronaviruses from bats that could be transmitted to humans in a lab which had “serious” safety problems.
“Some of that research was even being subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, including a study published less than two years before the pandemic that found “the first” evidence that humans could be infected with coronaviruses from bats.
“You heard that correctly, folks: Your tax dollars were paying for dangerous studies on coronaviruses in a lab in China that our own government officials had warned was unsafe.
“This all raises many questions, the first being how much were we paying for this endeavor?
“And that should be relatively easy for anyone to discover since a law renewed by Congress every single year requires all projects supported by the Department of Health and Human Services to include a price tag disclosing the cost paid by taxpayers.
“But, noticeably absent on the study from the Wuhan Institute? The cost.
“A review of numerous other projects supported by HHS found the cost information was missing from all of them. All of them.
“Covering up information that the public has a right to know about might be how things work in Communist China, but it isn’t how it should work here in America.
“This isn’t China, folks. Our laws aren’t optional, especially for those who are supposed to be enforcing them.
“Maybe we can’t force China to be more forthcoming, but we should be able to expect our own government to be open and transparent.
“That is why I am asking the HHS Office of Inspector General to launch an investigation to compel the department to comply with the law.
“I am also introducing legislation to require every project funded with your tax dollars to disclose the cost paid by you.
“This is just one of the “bright ideas” to shine some light on how your money is being spent that I will be unveiling this week to commemorate Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of open government.
“A transparent government is one of the most fundamental principles that makes our government – of the people, by the people, for the people – work.
“Decisions are made every day in Washington that impact families and communities in Iowa and across the country.
“We all benefit when we bring this information to light, especially when it involves how our tax dollars are being spent.
“That is why I’m also working to create an alert system to notify the public whenever a project goes $1 billion over budget or falls five years behind schedule.
“And some good news…my bipartisan bill was just reported out of committee this morning, so boondoggles beware.
“Another bill I am supporting will require hospitals and insurers to reveal rates to patients before they receive medical care.
“This commonsense effort would allow patients to know the costs associated with their health care in advance, so that they can make informed decisions for themselves and their families.
“And finally, I’m calling for more transparency from the Department of Education when it comes to COVID spending.
“Taxpayers should be able to see clearly how well states and school districts are doing at spending tax dollars provided to help schools safely re-open.
“Knowledge is the power that allows every citizen to hold those entrusted to make decisions accountable.
“After all, the only reason to keep taxpayers in the dark about any of these decisions is because they can’t withstand the scrutiny that results when all of the facts come to light.
“And with the sun now setting an hour later as a result of day light saving time, we are all reminded just how much of a difference can be made with a little extra sunlight.
“After all, sunshine is the best disinfectant…because to stop waste, we first need to be able to spot it.”