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Murtha-tied Company Wins Sole-Source Vaccine Contract

11:46 AM, Jan 4, 2010 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Several months ago we warned that Tara O'Toole who recently became Under Secretary for the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security would reward her friends resulting in millions of dollars in gifts to John Murtha cronies who supported her nomination.

And it now appears the Murtha/O'Toole favor factory has begun production. In February 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a second-generation Anthrax vaccine. This RFP was issued to be a re-procurement for a contract that had been canceled in 2006 for the same vaccine. And on December 7, HHS canceled the RFP.

After further review, it is becoming all too clear why this happened. Just as the year was closing and no one was paying attention, O'Toole's friends at PharmAthene were awarded a sole-source contract, which has resulted in their stock nearly doubling. In the very same week America faced al Qaeda's latest terrorist attack, it seems that the O'Toole-led homeland security "system worked" for PharmAthene -- assuming the system is one of cronyism, political paybacks, and sole-source contracts.

This leads one to ask, who is PharmAthene, what are O'Toole's ties, and why would the government single them out for a sole source giveaway at taxpayer expense?

PharmAthene is a company founded and run by Murtha cronies who have extremely close ties to O'Toole. In fact, O'Toole was head of the Center for Biosecurity, which is connected to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), and both Murtha and O'Toole's friends are working feverishly to position UPMC for a major biosecurity, vaccine-production contract that would result in billions flowing to Murtha's district, and O'Toole's private equity and lobbyist friends. According a recent report, this facility would be run by a mysterious unnamed biotechnology company. Anyone care to guess who that unnamed company is rumored to be?

PharmAthene was founded by Joel McCleary, who also happens to be a founding partner at a DC-based private equity firm, Four Seasons Ventures, and an advisor to UPMC. Partnered with McCleary at Four Seasons is none other than James Ervin, a former Murtha aid and the man one goes to for a Murtha earmark, a favor PharmAthene has benefited from in the past. Ervin lobbies for PharmAthene and Four Seasons is heavily invested.

And that's where O'Toole comes in. In addition to running the Center for Biosecurity, O'Toole advised the Alliance for Biosecurity, which we now know PharmAthene basically runs. As the Washington Times reported, "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."

So this comes full circle. After doing business in the private sector, O'Toole is now in a position to continue to do business with Murtha's people at PharmAthene, except this time, it's with taxpayer dollars.

And it's not as if this wasn't a concern during her nomination hearings. As obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Senator Tom Coburn specifically asked O'Toole on June 10, "What are your views on whether the United States should fund development of a second generation anthrax vaccine? Given that Pharmathene is competing for this effort, will you recuse yourself from any role in the decision whether to support this effort?" O'Toole's response, "I will, of course, adhere to all Executive Branch ethics requirements in consultation with the Department's Designated Agency Ethics Official with respect to conflicts of interest. I will recuse myself from any matter in which I have a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict as outlined in my Ethics Agreement which has been submitted to this Committee. With regard to Pharmathene, I have, as noted above, no financial interest in the company and am not aware of any current recusal requirements."

So O'Toole states she will not recuse herself and the favor factory begins production. Anyone concerned with this sole-source contract to O'Toole friends at PharmAthene -- a wholly owned subsidiary of John Murtha, Inc. -- has until January 13 to voice concerns in an effort to keep it from becoming finalized.

But with all that said, the mother of all taxpayer-funded gifts still sits in the wings, and it is the John Murtha Center for Biosecurity at UPMC.