Last month, Sen. Arlen Specter, together with fellow Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Casey, introduced a bill called the Biosecurity and Vaccine Development Improvement Act.
This is legislation ostensibly intended to “ensure our country has the resources necessary to protect the American people in the event of a disease outbreak or terrorist attack.”
However, it could have another major implication: Keeping money flowing to one of recently deceased Rep. Jack Murtha’s pet recipients of taxpayer dollars.
In Specter’s remarks introducing the bill, he noted:
“This legislation would provide funding for a public/private partnership vaccine developing and manufacturing facility.” It was an innocuous-sounding and non-specific statement, but one which those watching the flow of money out of government coffers say may have denoted a fresh effort to steer taxpayer dollars to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).
Specter has been open in his support for UPMC as a qualified candidate for a facility of the sort envisaged by the legislation, having held a hearing in Pittsburgh on the matter last year.
Furthermore, Specter and UPMC advocates say his support is not surprising, given UPMC’s reputation as a health care provider and employer, and given Specter’s history of championing funding for members of the health care and life sciences industries (he recently steered $10 billion in stimulus money to the National Institutes of Health, for example).
However, Specter’s critics see his support for UPMC as more problematic: UPMC itself is an entity with extensive ties to Murtha, as is the firm that reportedly operates it, Pharmathene. Murtha, while known for bringing home the bacon, also had a history of backing projects in circumstances where major ethical and value-for-money questions arose. UPMC is among those.
According to an August 2009 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, Murtha “consulted with UPMC on the need to increase vaccine capacity in the United States” and held hearings on the same topic as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Last year, a Harper’s item exposing certain work of Murtha, and members of Murtha’s so-called “favor factory,” noted that the longtime congressman had procured an $8.5 million earmark for UPMC. That same item also reported that Pharmathene itself had benefited from Murtha earmarking.