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Upcoming Legislation Would Increase Biothreat Readiness

06/15/2011 - 

Speaking at a bioterrorism forum at George Washington University yesterday (June 14, 2011), Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) announced plans to introduce legislation that would extend the Biomedical Advanced research and Development Authority (BARDA) program another five years and provide a secure revenue stream. BARDA was created by Congress initially in 2006. It was set up to develop medical countermeasures for response to a bioterrorist attack or public health emergency. Six billion dollars was set aside to stockpile vaccines and drugs.

Former Senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent, chair and vice chair of the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, also spoke at the forum. They shared their own concerns on the use of bioweapons, but stopped short of revealing any information from their annualWMD report card scheduled for release this fall.

“The intention to obtain and use [bioagents] as weapons is real,” and evidence obtained in the May 1 raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound shows that it is al Qaeda’s intention to use bioweapons against the United States, Rogers said.

Lieberman said more oversight is needed for labs where potentially dangerous biological agents are manufactured, stored, or used in research. The Department of Health and Human Services sets security standards for those types of labs currently, but giving the Department of Homeland Security an advisory role would be a good compromise, he said.

In addition to extending BARDA, the legislation will include a provision to provide training to law enforcement on detecting and recovering biological weapons and mandate a national emergency communications strategy.

If terrorists learn they can’t get the maximum effectiveness from their attacks because of a coordinated response where less people are affected, it’s going to deter future attacks, Talent said.

The panelists wouldn’t discuss specific information on the forthcoming WMD report card, but said 20 percent of the report would outline potential threats, 40 percent would grade how ready the United States is to deal with the threat, and 40 percent would consist of evaluations and recommendations.

Highlights from the upcoming legislation:

► 5-year extension on BARDA with a secure revenue stream

► A mandate for a national biodefense strategy

► Provisions for law enforcement WMD and NBC training

► Enable the United States to enter a global pathogen surveillance program

► A mandate a national communications strategy

► Create a specific White House position to oversee bioterroism efforts (Talent and Graham noted that a similar position already exists).

photo fromGeorgia National Guardon flickr