March 23, 2023

When J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972, he had been director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 37 years. When he started in that post, the Air Force was not yet a separate branch of the armed forces. By the time his tenure ended, Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon.

The government’s civil rights abuses over that long period are well known. Hoover’s FBI spied on groups like the NAACP and the ACLU and conducted domestic surveillance on almost any prominent figure who seemed politically threatening.

Albert Einstein, an early opponent of nuclear weapons, had an FBI file over 1,400 pages long by the time he died in 1955. John Lennon was put under surveillance after he met with anti-war activists in New York in 1971. The INS tried to deport him a year later. Perhaps most infamously, in 1964 Hoover’s FBI sent an anonymous letter to Martin Luther King, Jr., attempting to blackmail him into committing suicide.

Many of the FBI’s activities in those years were blatantly unconstitutional, but few were brave enough to speak out against them. It was too dangerous to cross Director Hoover. His influence was so strong that when he turned 70, President Lyndon Johnson issued an executive order granting him a special exemption from mandatory retirement under the Civil Service Retirement Act. 

A decade later, public opinion began to shift. Six presidents had come and gone while Hoover remained at the top of the most formidable law enforcement agency the world had ever known. But when his abuses of office came to light, they sparked an outcry against one man holding the reins of power for so long. So, in 1976, Congress enacted a 10-year term limit for the FBI director. 

In more recent times, another power-hungry figure outlasted seven presidents and oversaw his agency’s transformation from a medical research institute into the foremost biodefense research agency on Earth. Yet in nearly four decades, the Senate never once voted to confirm him. The law never required it.

As an old saying goes, those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci headed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for over 38 years, and by the time he retired he was drawing the largest salary in the entire federal government. 

His salary skyrocketed after 9/11, when the George W. Bush administration, at the behest of Vice President Dick Cheney, brought all biodefense research under the control of the NIAID director. This included projects that were previously overseen by military or intelligence agencies. As one article put it, “[w]ith the stroke of Cheney’s pen, all United States biodefence [sic] efforts, classified or unclassified, were placed under the aegis of Anthony Fauci [who]… went from being the director of one of the NIH’s constituent 27 institutes to being the only one who really mattered.”

We now know Dr. Fauci used his perch atop the nation’s biodefense research apparatus to finance gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses in China. In doing so, he bypassed a security protocol to screen out projects that posed too much risk. 

Though the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic are still unknown, some scientists believe it may have begun in a lab. If so, the virus may have developed from a research method like the ones Dr. Fauci was bankrolling.

The American people deserve better. That’s why I recently introduced the NIH Reform Act to divide the NIAID into three parts that align with its stated mission “to better understand, treat, and ultimately prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases.”

As it’s currently configured, the NIAID’s jurisdiction covers everything from asthma to Ebola, from peanut allergies to the plague. My bill would replace it with three independent institutes: one for infectious diseases, one for immunologic diseases, and one for allergic diseases. The director of each new institute would be appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and (in keeping with the 10-year precedent at the post-Hoover FBI) permitted to serve no more than two five-year terms.

J. Edgar Hoover and Anthony Fauci are two real-life examples of how too much power in too few hands creates an echo chamber where decisions cannot be questioned. But a free and open society depends upon questioning those in power. A people’s trust in science depends upon it, too.

You can read the op-ed HERE.