How Operation Warp Speed’s Big Vaccine Contracts Could Stay Secret

The Trump administration has compared Operation Warp Speed’s crash program to develop a COVID-19 vaccine to the Manhattan Project. And like the notoriously secretive government project to make the first atomic bomb, the details of Operation Warp Speed’s work may take a long time to unravel. One reason is that Operation Warp Speed is issuing billions of dollars’ worth of coronavirus vaccine contracts to companies through a nongovernment intermediary, bypassing the regulatory oversight and transparency of traditional federal contracting mechanisms, NPR has learned. Instead of entering into contracts directly with vaccine makers, more than $6 billion in Operation Warp Speed funding has been routed through a defense contract management firm called Advanced Technologies International, Inc. ATI then awarded contracts to companies working on COVID-19 vaccines. As a result, the contracts between the pharmaceutical companies and ATI may not be available through public records requests, and additional documents are exempt from public disclosure for five years. [Robin] Feldman, of UC Hastings, says the administration’s comparison of Operation Warp Speed to the Manhattan Project is troubling. “I think that’s completely the wrong image,” she says. “The right analogy, I think, for Operation Warp Speed is the penicillin effort in World War II. We can do a lot of good together, but we have to make sure pharma companies aren’t taking advantage of the crisis.”

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