House of Representatives member Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, sent a letter on Thursday asking ONDCP director Gil Kerlikowske to investigate how the sports doping watchdogs spend about $9 million a year in U.S. taxpayer funding.
The move comes exactly one month after USADA informed Armstrong it had taken formal action against him, leading to doping charges against Armstrong and five other men that the agency says engaged in a doping conspiracy during the American star’s Tour de France run.
Three men named as part of the doping conspiracy were issued life bans by USADA earlier this week.
Armstrong has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, citing more than 500 doping tests without a positive — a defense weakened by such disgraced admitted dope cheats as Marion Jones having passed similar tests for years.
“The U.S. Congress has no role in determining whether an individual athlete doped, but we do have a great interest in how taxpayer money is spent,” Sensenbrenner wrote in his letter to Kerlikowske.
“As USADA’s main funding source, ONDCP should take interest in the agency’s conduct. Nonetheless, I have found virtually no evidence of ONDCP oversight of USADA… ONDCP should take a serious interest in how its funds are spent.”
USADA’s entire annual budget is $13.7 million, of which $9 million is funded by Congress.
And though as a USA Cycling licensee he agreed to compete under WADA code, Armstrong has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in his hometown of Austin, Texas, to have USADA’s charges dismissed, saying USADA’s arbitration system of settling challenges is unconstitutional.
Armstrong also claims USADA lacks jurisdiction to make such charges, saying only the International Cycling Union (UCI) does — though WADA code states that the UCI must enforce all sanctions ultimately determined by WADA protocol.
USADA has given Armstrong a 30-day extension in his deadline to respond to the charges against him so a court can rule upon the merits of his lawsuit. Armstrong withdrew a demand for an injunction against USADA once the extension was given.
Sensenbrenner represents the Fifth Congressional District of Wisconsin. The Fifth District includes parts of Jefferson, Milwaukee, and Waukesha counties, and all of Ozaukee and Washington counties. Armstrong’s longtime bicycle sponsor, Trek, is based in Waterloo, Wisconsin, which is part of Jefferson County, but is located in the Second District.
Sensenbrenner made it clear he sides with Armstrong’s attack against USADA, which would have an arbitration panel hear evidence against Armstrong, and in his defense before rendering a decision — one which could be appealed all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“USADA seeks to strip Armstrong of his achievements and the substantial winnings that accompanied them without offering him even basic due process,” Sensenbrenner said. ”The alleged lack of fairness raises concerns for athletes of all levels, the majority of whom lack the resources and platform to challenge USADA’s actions.”
The U.S. Justice Department ended an investigation into Armstrong last February without explanation, and without bringing any criminal charges against him.
“USADA’s authority over Armstrong is strained at best,” Sensenbrenner said. ”To circumvent its jurisdictional challenges and its statute of limitations, USADA has adopted a novel conspiracy theory.”
Sensenbrenner wants to know if ONDCP has analyzed USADA processes and has done any oversight or procedural review of the agency, if ONDCP approves of USADA looking into the same issues the U.S. Justice Department studied, if it was told of the Armstrong probe, and if ONDCP considers USADA’s investigation unbiased. In his letter, he requested that Kerlikowske reply before July 27.
Sensenbrenner notes the arbitration hearing system was meant to deal with athletes challenging positive dope tests and notes that Armstrong has not yet been told the identity of the witnesses against him, although Armstrong would be notified well ahead of any hearing.
“Presumably, USADA has offered other athletes inducements to testify against Armstrong, but USADA has no obligation to disclose what those
inducements were or whether it offered them,” Sensenbrenner said.
“Arbitrators are not chosen under the election procedures… the only judicial review permitted would be in Switzerland, not the United States. It
is clear that the USADA arbitration process lacks the most basic due process. I wholeheartedly support the USADA mission but fairness on the field cannot come at the expense of fairness off the field.”
USADA claimed, in its June 12 charging letter, that it had collected blood samples from Armstrong in 2009 and 2010 that were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”
USADA CEO Travis Tygart issued a statement Thursday evening, stating that USADA would reach out to Congressman Sensenbrenner and offer to come in and discuss the process.
“The case against all those involved in the USPS Pro-Cycling Team Doping Conspiracy, including Lance Armstrong was not brought lightly,” the statement read. ” We are well aware of his popularity and the admirers he has on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, but our responsibility is to clean athletes who demand that USADA protect their right to a level playing field by eradicating drug use from sport. They rightly depend upon USADA to ensure that no matter how famous or anonymous, we will treat each alleged offender the same. USADA accomplishes this directive when it has sufficient evidence and not on any other basis. Any decision to sanction an athlete is the result of multi-level review by persons independent of USADA including a panel of arbitrators following a full evidentiary hearing with a right of appeal where, witness testimony is given under oath and subject to cross examination and which can be open to the public.
“The evidence is overwhelming, and were we not to bring this case, we would be complicit in covering up evidence of doping, and failing to do our job on behalf of those we are charged with protecting. We will reach out to Congressman Sensenbrenner and offer to come in and discuss the process, which is the same in all cases whether it involves high profile athletes or those who are not. We will also offer to brief the Congressman on how USADA is funded and the oversight that is provided by ONDCP. USADA is an open and transparent organization and welcomes to opportunity to fully address the Congressman’s inquiry.”
Editor’s Note: Representative Sensenbrenner does not represent the 2nd Congressional District in Wisconsin, in which Trek Bicycles is located. This story did not make this clear on its initial publishing and we regret the error.