The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Family Feud

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On October 22, 2014, Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-Okla.) released his annual “Wastebook 2014: What Washington Doesn’t Want You To Read.”  The report listed 100 wasteful spending programs that cost taxpayers $25 billion annually.  The Wastebook always brings chuckles and disbelief that the government could dish out so much money so foolishly.  On the other hand, it is not a joke that so much taxpayer money is wastefully spent year after year.

The Wastebook always includes a plethora of grants that have been dispensed for frivolous projects, such as a $371,026 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to do the first comparison study of MRI-related brain activation patterns in women as they viewed images of their dogs and kids to see if they loved them equally or not.  The total amount of NIH grants in the Wastebook was $904,402, but as is the case with every other agency included in the publication, there is always more waste to be exposed.

And while it is bad enough when an agency spends taxpayer money foolishly, it is even worse when those expenditures end up undermining the findings of another agency.

For example, between 2000 and 2014, NIH sent $172.7 million in grant money to scientists to study the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) and its effect on humans, particularly as an endocrine disruptor, which is a chemical that interferes with hormonal activity.  Some of these taxpayer-funded research studies have in turn been used to by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to attack a sister agency of NIH within the Department of Health and Human Services:  the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has regulatory oversight for BPA.

According to the FDA, “BPA is an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate, a hard, clear plastic, which is used in many consumer products.  BPA is also found in epoxy resins, which act as a protective lining on the inside of some metal-based food and beverage cans.  Uses of all substances that migrate from packaging into food, including BPA, are subject to premarket approval by FDA as indirect food additives or food contact substances.  FDA can make regulatory changes based on new safety or usage information.  The original approvals for BPA were issued under FDA’s food additive regulations and date from the 1960s.”

The FDA has found that BPA “is safe at the current levels occurring in foods.  Based on FDA’s ongoing safety review of scientific evidence, the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.”  Considering the FDA is better known for being overly cautious in its scientific and regulatory decisions, especially when it comes to approving life-saving drugs and medical devices, their conclusion that BPA is safe as it is currently used is significant.

Even though the FDA has statutory authority to regulate BPA and has concluded that the science proves it is safe, NIH continues to dish out grant money in an effort to provide a contrary result.  Even worse, the basis for these studies may not be academic; they may be political.

Of the NIH grants that CAGW reviewed, 70 percent were provided between 2010 and 2014.  This time period also coincides with the tenure of NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D, a 35-year federal scientist, who was appointed to the position on January 18, 2009.  She has been called out by members of both the House and Senate for her participation in biased activities when, as a federal official at a science-based agency, she should be focused instead on providing impartial research.

Jon Entine, a journalist and researcher who focuses on science and public policy and has written with skepticism about the relationship of public policy, the media, and NGOs, believes Birnbaum is an unabashed anti-BPA activist and a “high-profile supporter” of “academic scientists who look for endocrine effects regardless of whether those effects can cause harm.”

In an October 31, 2012 Forbes online article, Entine discussed the continued attacks on BPA.  He wrote, “one of the most disturbing trends in science reporting” is “the increasing tendency of reporters and [NGOs] to trumpet research that supports a pre-determined perspective, no matter how tenuous – or dubious – a study might be.”  According to Entine, this trend has been coined “single-study syndrome” by New York Times columnist Andrew Revkin.

Sure enough, following the single-study syndrome methodology, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group, along with Mother Jones, among others, have used the expected predisposed NIH-funded research to attack the FDA’s work on BPA, tying up the agency’s resources.

There are many occasions when the bureaucratic left hand often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, usually as a result of a lack of transparency and communication.  But, when one federal agency is handing out millions of tax dollars to outside influences knowing that the findings will be used for the purpose of attacking, undermining, and reversing the taxpayer-funded work of another agency, that idiom is elevated to a whole new and absurd level.

The taxpayer-funded family feud between the NIH and the FDA should be stopped.

 

To read more about it, see CAGW’s November’s WasteWatcher Dueling Agencies

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