WASHINGTON - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta spent much of the $23 million approved by Congress for research on chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) on other things and gave false information to Congress about it, according to a new audit.
The episode has angered lawmakers, especially Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., and prompted efforts within the CDC to establish new accounting controls. But questions are being raised by Porter and others about whether those efforts are enough.
"I'm concerned about lying to Congress, lying to people who make the policies of the country," said Porter, who added that he is still in talks with new CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan.
In response to June Gibbs Brown, the inspector general, Koplan wrote on April 21 that "the funds that were not expended for CFS were spent in extremely important disease areas, such as measles, poliomyelitis and human papillomavirus.
"While CDC is not legally prohibited from spending funds budgeted for CFS on other programs, we acknowledge the importance of complying with the intent of Congress and providing information to Congress," Koplan wrote.
The May audit, conducted by the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services, was undertaken after revelations were made last year by CDC researcher William Reeves. CDC is part of HHS.
Reeves, who as chief of the viral exanthems and herpesvirus branch of the CDC is directly responsible for the agency's chronic fatigue syndrome research program, reported last summer that millions of dollars Congress had given for research on the syndrome were being used to support research in unrelated diseases. Congress allocated about $23 million from 1995 to 1998 for research into the syndrome, a debilitating disease characterized by profound fatigue and lack of stamina.
Though the CDC director is allowed to transfer money from one research program to another, lower-level employees are not.
In his report to Congress, Reeves said that Brian Mahy, the CDC's division director and his immediate supervisor, had moved funds out of chronic fatigue syndrome research. Reeves said Mahy asked him to verify that $1.2 million in question had been used for chronic fatigue syndrome laboratory work - even though it was not true.
Reeves also said the former acting director of the CDC, Claire Broome, had told a congressional panel that the CDC had allocated $5.8 million for chronic fatigue syndrome for 1998 and that $3.4 million would directly support research in Reeves' branch. But, he said, his entire 1998 branch allocation from Mahy was $2.5 million. Reeves said he did not believe Broome knew she was given inaccurate information.
Koplan and Mahy declined to be interviewed.