USAMRIID: America’s Key Lab for Fighting Infectious Diseases Has Become a Pentagon Backwater

Dr. John M. Dye Jr., Viral Immunology branch chief, works in the laboratory at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Maryland (2007). Photo credit: USAMRIID

At the White House briefing Wednesday on efforts to combat COVID-19, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he had just visited the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and was briefed on its work on antiviral drugs and vaccines. But USAMRIID scientists have privately complained about their lack of early serious involvement in the COVID-19 fight.

For months, as reported in the Frederick News Post, the Pentagon withheld over $104 million from military labs including USAMRIID, where cutting-edge work on infectious diseases has traditionally been conducted. Formal intervention by state and local elected officials was necessary to obtain an explanation from the Defense Department on the unusual fiscal activities. It is still unclear if the funding has been fully restored to the Institute.

The problems at the lab run far deeper than erratic and insufficient budgets, starting with the core: who’s in command. Historically, those awarded command positions at USAMRIID had worked as researchers at Army labs and were expected to stay in the top job for several years. In the past decade, USAMRIID has had five commanders—one every two years. Some of the commanders were excellent military leaders, but almost none were research scientists or in their jobs long enough to understand fully the high containment lab’s complex structure and wide-ranging research and testing mission.

Read the full story by David R. Franz and Judith Miller at City Journal


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