Maryland lawmakers challenge Department of Defense withholding of Fort Detrick funding

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The Maryland delegation jointly penned a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper urging the release of $104 million

FREDERICK, Md (WDVM) — One of the leading laboratories in bio-medical research in the United States is facing a hold on funding. But Maryland lawmakers are fighting back to free that funding.

Some of the most notable infectious diseases, like Ebola, have been studied in Frederick, at Fort Detrick inside the United States Army Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).

“Chemical, biological threats, they’re only going one way: up. This is the number one spot in the United States for how we’re going to fix these types of issues,” explained Congressman David Trone, Representative for Maryland’s Sixth District.

But the operations on future research could be strained.

At the end of January, Trone, Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, say they were told that two U.S. Army facilities, including USAMRIID, are facing funding holds by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, OUSD(A&S).

“We were concerned because there was no transparency. We should have known about it if it was at risk. The reasons [for withholding the funding] were accounting, the reasons were accountability, the reasons were the size and capacity of the facilities,” explained Senator Ben Cardin.

The funding freeze is now being challenged by the delegation in a jointly-drafted letter. Trone, Cardin, Van Hollen, and fellow legislators Dutch Ruppersberger, Jamie Raskin and Anthony Brown addressed the note to Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper.

In the letter, lawmakers expressed concern over the withholding of $104 million dollars in payment to USAMRIID and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense at Aberdeen Proving Ground (USAMRICD).

“Given the critical contributions of USAMRIID and USAMRICD to our national security, including their role in responding to the coronavirus outbreak, we were alarmed to learn that the OUSD(A&S) has withheld payment for laboratory research since September 2019,” the letter stated.

“I think this is putting major stress on their budget,” explained Senator Chris Van Hollen, “They don’t have to capacity to keep doing all their work without these funds flowing which is why it’s very important that this be resolved immediately.”

“As you know, missions that require both a highly-skilled workforce and the ability to surge in times of crisis, like chemical and biological research, cannot simply be slashed when no emergency is present. The men and women who are the heart of these laboratories have numerous opportunities available to them. This capacity, once reduced, cannot be rebuilt overnight,” the letter continued.

In a statement, City of Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor described the facility as critical to national security, but also to the local economy. According to the mayor, USAMRIID’s workforce includes 750 people, including contractors, civilians and military members.

Senators Cardin and Van Hollen noted that members of the delegation are scheduled to meet with Fort Detrick military leadership on Friday.

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