Proposed NDAA amendment would require disclosure of DoD grant spending

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The National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 is starting to gain weight as measures and amendments get added. One of them from Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst would require recipients of Defense Department grants to publicly disclose how they spend the money. Justin Goodman is interested in spending on animal experiments. He is vice president for advocacy and public policy at the White Coat Waste Project, and he joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin for more discussion.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mr. Goodman, good to have you on.

Justin Goodman: Thanks for having me Tom.

Tom Temin: First of all, tell us about the White Coat Waste Project — white coat sounds like laboratory.

Justin Goodman: You nailed it. We’re a taxpayer watchdog group, we have about two and a half million members across the country. And we’re focused specifically on exposing and ending taxpayer funded animal experiments, which consume about $20 billion a year of taxpayer funds, are incredibly wasteful and are opposed by most Americans. So we put a microscope on that and make sure we can hold government accountable.

Tom Temin: And on DoD grants, what’s your sense of how much of DoD granting activity results in that kind of experimentation.

Justin Goodman: So that’s a great question and why we’re working on this effort with Senator Ernst, because it’s really hard right now to determine how much the DoD and other agencies are wasting on animal experiments and other wasteful projects that in 2020, for fiscal year 2020, the DoD had a research budget of $109 billion with a B, and as you can imagine, there’s a lot of waste. And Senator Ernst’s amendment to the NDAA will ensure that there’s a price tag on any press release or statement that goes out about DoD funded research so taxpayers know what their money is being spent on and can see if they’re getting a return on their investment.

Tom Temin: But there’s no provision in that that requires them to say whether they’re doing animal experiments. Suppose they said, well, we’re looking at eye protection and that can be some pretty horrible experiments that we’ve seen over the years in different venues. But are you sure that that would get you at that number that is directed toward animal work?

Justin Goodman: Listen, sunlight is the best disinfectant. And we’ve found time and again that when government is accountable, when the government is transparent, and when they’re accountable to taxpayers, we see waste, fraud and abuse decreased. And if we look at some of the things that DoD is funding right now, or recently, we’re talking about putting pigs on treadmills, addicting rats to alcohol and cocaine, analyzing dog personalities, and DoD even funded a report on Star Trek style teleportation, this doesn’t involve animals, i’s just crazy and we shouldn’t be paying for it — to look at the physics of Star Trek style teleportation. And this is not a partisan issue. Whatever side of the political spectrum people fall on, we’ve done polling 80% of both liberal and conservative voters support this price tag provision.

Tom Temin: Well let me just ask you this, is it possible that they could do just to get down to the detail itself, animal experiments that are not cruel. I mean, if you’re evaluating a dog’s personality, maybe it lays down a little dog bed and barks at someone, I don’t mean to make fun of it. but you know I’m saying, it’s not the same as injecting it with horrible poisons and that kind of thing.

Justin Goodman: That’s right. Our position is that taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for this stuff. It’s not the government’s place to fund this type of research. If this stuff has value, then, you know, private philanthropists, private companies, they can invest their dollars in this and take the risk. But we know that animal experiments in particular, are very wasteful, they fail to translate to humans about 90% of the time, and experts estimate that animal experiments are not, about 87.5% of all government research is wasteful. And there’s actually another provision in the NDAA this year that Senator Ernst included that’s looking to cut $300 million in wasteful research, that not only wasteful duplicative and things that are just not worthy of being a priority, and also looking for a report from the DoD on replacing duplicative research. So this is again, this is about transparency. It’s not a referendum on any particular type of research funded by the DoD. It’s simply saying you’re spending $100 billion a year, we’re not really sure where that money is going — and we want to see so that we can identify areas of waste, fraud and abuse. And that’s good for the military. It’s good for taxpayers. And it’s good for animals in the end.

Tom Temin: And getting to the issue of animal experimentation in general. I know the NIH has at least pledged to minimize it and has reduced it somewhat over the years. They still have chimpanzees and things and the various labs. Have you also worked with DoD or tried to convince DoD grant making elements to try to curtail this type of activity?

Justin Goodman: Yeah, absolutely. So DoD is one of the agencies that we have been working with to reduce and replace animal experiments wherever possible. Encourage the use of other technology that can get the DoD to where it needs to go — and actually have all the agencies the DoD is at the leading edge of developing more efficient and effective alternatives to animal testing, because they don’t have the time to wait, whether it’s for a countermeasure for a bio attack, they don’t have the time to wait for these slow and inaccurate animal experiments that they could take a couple years and then you’d get data that’s not even useful for protecting warfighters. So they’ve really been at the at the cutting edge of that. And we just want to make sure that they’re spending their money responsibly, and again, that we have a sense of where it’s going. In contrast, we have an agency we just launched a new campaign against the FDA last week called cut FDA red tape. The FDA is forcing private drug companies to poison and kill puppies, even though the companies are trying to use alternatives and don’t want to do that. So people tend to think that cosmetics companies are the big problem when it comes to animal testing in the United States. That’s not really the case. It’s the government. The government’s the problem when it comes to both funding this and requiring certain animal testing to be done when it doesn’t need to be and companies don’t want to do it. So I certainly applaud the DoD for the great work it’s doing to move away from animal testing and being a leader in that area. But there’s more progress that can be made. And Senator Ernst’s amendment, while it’s not specifically about animal experiments by any means, will certainly help shed light on the problem and hopefully point to some solutions.

Tom Temin: Have you worked with her on this amendment? And do you have a sense of her sense about that specific topic of animal experimentation?

Justin Goodman: Yeah, we’ve been working with Senator Ernst for several years, she actually received one of our waste warrior awards last year for being such an outstanding leader on identifying and exposing and cutting waste. So she’s a great friend to our organization, a great friend to taxpayers. We worked with her a couple years ago to introduce the COST Act, which is the Cost Openness and Spending Transparency Act. This is a bill that actually grew out of a report we did showing that government agencies were violating long standing transparency provisions, the language in the NDAA this year is our version of that COST Act. So the senator does have a bill that would apply this type of price tag provision across spending on all federal agencies. The fact that she’s on the Senate Armed Services Committee gives her the opportunity to start by implementing this at the DoD and we’re hoping this gets signed into law and other agencies follow suit.

Tom Temin: And do you have the sense or the hope or somewhere in between there that if the government starts to actively reduce the amount of grant money that is used by researchers that do animal experimentation, it will start to wither up that line of endeavor across industry also?

Justin Goodman: Absolutely. I mean, listen, it’s a very incredibly wasteful industry. It’s entrenched. It’s been around for a long time. And industries like that institutions like that are hard to dismantle. But we find time and again that when we expose the waste and abuse, Congress is anxious to take care of it. We’ve caught in recent years FDA was doing nicotine testing on baby monkeys, we exposed that, got it to cut. The VA was injecting dogs with methamphetamines, we got that cut. So there’s been a lot of successes. There’s a lot of great progress. Public opinion is on our side — like I say, 80% of Americans support this COST Act provision. It’s very bipartisan, the majority of public opposes animal experiments. They don’t want to be forced to pay for this anymore. So we want to be able to hold government accountable and we need the information, we need information about where the money is going and how it’s being spent.

Tom Temin: Justin Goodman is vice president for advocacy and Public Policy at the White Coat Waste Project. Thanks so much for joining me.

Justin Goodman: Thanks for having us.

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