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Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers push back on Department of Defense withholding funding from APG, Fort Detrick

Approximately $104 million has been withheld from U.S. Army facilities specializing in medical and biological research at Aberdeen Proving Grounds and Fort Detrick in Frederick, leading a cohort of Maryland democrats from both houses of Congress to voice their displeasure, according to a letter sent to the Department of Defense released Wednesday.

Democratic senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, along with house members David Trone, Dutch Ruppersberger, Jamie Raskin and Anthony Brown, all of Maryland, penned a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to voice their concern and ask the Army and Esper’s office provide them an update on the withheld funds by Feb. 28, according to the letter.

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The $104 million is being withheld from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense at APG.

“Given the critical contributions of USAMRIID… to our national security, including their role in responding to the coronavirus outbreak, we were alarmed to learn that the [Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment] has withheld payment for laboratory research since September 2019,” the letter states.

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No coronavirus cases have been reported in Maryland — although the state health department reported earlier this week a second person was being tested — but the virus has been detected in California, Washington, Massachusetts and, most recently, Wisconsin, where state health officials confirmed the 12 U.S. case Wednesday. It has also been spotted in Illinois and Arizona.

The virus has killed close to 500 in China.

Van Hollen’s office indicated it would work to release the money, and that the impact of the reduced funding for those programs remains to be seen.

The congressmen also opposed a reduction in either base’s staffing, saying the centers are valuable for their research roles even in calm times.

“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 letter states. “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 MRICD on the proving grounds researches and develops medical countermeasures to chemical agents.

The MRICD at Aberdeen could not be reached for comment. The Department of Defense could not supply information in time for this article’s publication, though it does not comment on congressional correspondence as a matter of course.

The consortium of lawmakers also chided the DoD for making “drastic programmatic changes” without Congress’ input. The statement alluded to another letter in November that addressed the same issue of secrecy.

The letter urged the DoD to “ensure that the Department is more transparent with its budgeting decisions in the future.”

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