Tara O'Toole is a name most Americans have never heard before, but on Capitol Hill, she's causing a lot of problems for Jack Murtha and Harry Reid.
O'Toole has been nominated for a senior post at the Department of Homeland Security, specifically the Under Secretary for the Science and Technology Directorate. In the bio-security field this is a critically important job that has a huge impact on the people who manufacture, store, and distribute the vaccines that would protect us from a bio-attack (and hopefully these people are more competent than the administration officials overseeing the distribution of H1N1 vaccines). Of course, given this administration's track record, one can hardly assume that the person nominated for this job was thoroughly vetted to ensure she is both qualified and free from any conflict of interest.
O'Toole has conflict of interest in spades. She has close connections to the scandal plagued and ethically challenged John Murtha. As the Washington Post recently reported, "Nearly half the members of a powerful House subcommittee in control of Pentagon spending are under scrutiny by ethics investigators in Congress, who have trained their lens on the relationships between seven panel members and an influential lobbying firm founded by a former Capitol Hill aide. The investigations by two separate ethics offices include an examination of the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), as well as others who helped steer federal funds to clients of the PMA Group."
According to DHS's press release announcing the O'Toole nomination, she is "founder of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where she currently serves [as] CEO and Director." Murtha has taken a special interest in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center or UPMC, as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports,
"University of Pittsburgh Medical Center CEO Jeffrey Romoff is expected to propose that his health system create and run the world's leading facility for manufacturing vaccines by 2013, potentially a $1 billion venture â€¦ UPMC worked on its proposal for a public-private partnership for several years, according to Rep. John Murtha's office. Murtha, D-Johnstown, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, held hearings and consulted with UPMC on the need to increase vaccine capacity in the United States. At a hearing Murtha called in Washington last year, officials testified a public-private partnership, possibly with an academic institution, could be a viable option that likely would cost several billion dollars."
But the connections don't end there. Not only is the Center for Biosecurity run by O'Toole and a handful of Murtha cronies, but the same day O'Toole made a generous contribution to . . . you guessed it, Jack Murtha, so did a bunch of other folks at UPMC totaling more than $30,000.00.
This ought to raise some red flags. We have a nominee for a national security job tied to a congressman who is very interested in the institution she's involved in, while that same institution is positioning itself for "billions" in government contracts. And the folks at that same institution are closely tied to this same ethically-challenged Member of Congress and have given him significant sums of money.
But that isn't even the whole story. According to a report in the Washington Times,
"President Obama's nominee at the Department of Homeland Security overseeing bioterrorism defense has served as a key adviser for a lobbying group funded by the pharmaceutical industry that has asked the government to spend more money for anthrax vaccines and biodefense research. But Dr. Tara O'Toole, whose confirmation as undersecretary of science and technology is pending, never reported her involvement with the lobbying group called the Alliance for Biosecurity in a recent government ethics filing."
Seriously? So, in addition to being tied to a corrupt Congressman she failed to report lobbying the very industry she is now going to have a significant amount of sway over?
The Obama administration is, understandably, getting a little anxious to see their ethically-challenged nominee confirmed, so who do they lean on? The Senate Majority Leader, of course. Last week Reid went out and complained that the "President nominated someone highly experienced" and Republicans are "stalling President Obama's nominees for months on end."
Oh, and one more thing: this highly regarded nominee happened to have been a member of a group that "described itself as Marxist." So if O'Toole doesn't get confirmed, she at least has all the qualifications for a czar position.
Update: A few months back the Danger Room provided more background on why O'Toole is such an atrocious pick.