Empower Oversight Amends Complaint in NIH Lawsuit on Deleted Coronavirus Sequences; Challenges Improper Redactions in FOIA

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According to Empower Oversight, NIH failed to respond within the statutory deadline to Empower Oversight’s requests for documents related to the deletion of the data as well as documents related to congressional oversight requests from Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.). File photo: Becky Wright Photography, Shutter Stock, licensed.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Empower Oversight filed an amended complaint today against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation for documents related to a request by Chinese researchers to remove genetic sequences related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus from a database controlled by NIH.

The public has a right to learn everything it can about the NIH’s decision to delete genetic information at the request of Chinese researchers in the midst of a worldwide pandemic,” said Jason Foster.

The initial complaint, filed November 17, 2021, alleged that the NIH failed to respond within the statutory deadline to Empower Oversight’s requests for documents related to the deletion of the data as well as documents related to congressional oversight requests from Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).

After Empower Oversight sued the NIH, the agency provided only 17 pages of documents about the Senators’ request, including a copy of the Senators’ initial June 28, 2021 letter, annotated with the NIH’s answers to the lawmakers’ seven enumerated questions. However, the answers are redacted in their entirety.


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The redacted paragraphs almost certainly contain factual information responsive to the Senators’ questions that is not legally exempt from FOIA and is being improperly withheld by NIH. And the NIH failed to provide documents related to its handling of the Senators’ September 16, 2021 follow-up letter.

Thus, the amended complaint includes copies of two administrative appeals Empower Oversight filed with NIH challenging its redactions as improper and its searches for documents as legally insufficient.

“With China’s failure to cooperate with investigations into the origins of COVID-19, the public has a right to learn everything it can about the NIH’s decision to delete genetic information at the request of Chinese researchers in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. NIH owes answers to the U.S. Senate and the American public. Empower Oversight will keep working to enforce transparency through FOIA and help ensure that they get it.” said Empower Oversight Founder and President Jason Foster.

Last week, a bipartisan group of Senators and Congressmen sent the Attorney General a letter urging that federal agencies emphasize openness and transparency in response to FOIA requests.

If you have first-hand information you’d like to disclose to assist Empower Oversight with these inquiries, please contact us confidentially here.

Empower Oversight Whistleblowers & Research (EMPOWR) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization dedicated to enhancing independent oversight of government and corporate wrongdoing. EMPOWR works to help insiders document and report corruption to the proper authorities while also seeking to hold authorities accountable to act on those reports.


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