US Congressman questions role of USADA in Armstrong case

United States Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner yesterday released the details of a letter sent to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) regarding the distribution of $9 million worth of funding allocated to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). 

In his letter, Sensenbrenner puts forth a number of queries to the ONDCP that relate to the way the tax-funded money is used by USADA and how the ONDCP oversees their spending. More specifically, the letter focuses on the current case against Lance Armstrong and suggests the ONDCP has little "oversight" of whether these funds are being spent appropriately.

Sensenbrenner acknowledges, in his letter, that the US Congress has no jurisdiction to handle sport doping matters but is extremely interested in the actual case of Lance Armstrong and questions the authority to impose possible sanctions, bans and striping of titles on the former seven-time Tour winner.

"We do have a great interest in how taxpayer money is spent. As USADA’s main funding source, ONDCP should take interest in the agency’s conduct," he wrote.

The timeline of events, which begin in 1998, before USADA was founded, appears to be of concern to Sensenbrenner who again questions the authority of USADA to handle the matter.

"Congress designated USADA as the United States’ National Anti-Doping Organization in 2000, but the agency is seeking to sanction Armstrong for conduct beginning in 1998. Furthermore, during Armstrong’s cycling career, the International Cycling Union (UCI) had exclusive authority to sanction Armstrong for violation of its anti-doping rules," he said.

He continues by giving a recount of the numerous doping tests which Armstrong "has never failed" before discussing the possibility of bias in the case and it being based on a conspiracy rather than actual evidence. This case should, according to Sensenbrenner, allow for cross examination.

"To circumvent its jurisdictional challenges and its statute of limitations, USADA has adopted a novel conspiracy theory. The agency alleges, not that Armstrong doped during individual events, but that he engaged in a sweeping conspiracy to violate anti-doping rules beginning in 1998 and extending to the present. Since the alleged conspiracy is ongoing, USADA asserts that it now has authority over Armstrong’s entire career without regard to its statute of limitations.

Arbitrators are not chosen under the election procedures afforded by the Federal Arbitration Act to ensure neutral arbitration. 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," he said.

In conclusion to his letter he speaks of the the importance of a sportsperson’s fans and the investment they make in the sport before leaving six questions regarding spending oversight and of course, those specific to the Armstrong case.

"In response to this letter, please describe the role ONDCP plays in ensuring that USADA fulfills its Congressional mandate in a manner that protects the due process rights of athletes subject to its authority," he said.

The full letter and final questions can be read here.

USADA responds to Sensenbrenner letter regarding Armstrong case

A prompt reply was given by USADA regarding the letter by CEO Travis Tygart. The letter offers the Congressman with an invitation to discuss the case and to be briefed on where and why funds are allocated to various resources. This is the reply:

"The case against all those involved in the USPS Pro-Cycling Team Doping Conspiracy, including Lance Armstrong was not brought lightly. 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."

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