Skip to content

Illustration by Security Management

U.S. National Biodefense Strategy Needs Improvement, Watchdog Found

The United States’ biodefense strategy needs some help before it can be effectively implemented, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found in a new report released this week, National Biodefense Strategy: Additional Efforts Would Enhance Likelihood of Effective Implementation.

Released in 2018, the National Biodefense Strategy and implementation plan and the National Security Presidential Memorandum-14 (NSPM-14) are designed to enhance the nation’s biodefense capabilities.

Biological threats to the United States include manmade biological weapons such as a chemical weapon that utilizes disease-producing agents, or a naturally occurring disease such as the novel coronavirus COVID-19

NSPM-14 established a governing structure for the strategy, with several relevant federal agencies participating. The effort is chaired by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), who guides implementation. It also requires agencies involved with the biodefense effort to collect and assess data on their biodefense activities to identify gaps in the effort.

But the GAO found several problems that could hurt the strategy’s long-term implementation. For example, the GAO found no documented methodology or guidance for how data will be analyzed to help the identify both strategy gaps and opportunities to leverage resources.  

In addition, the GAO found that federal officials were also unsure how decisions would be made, especially if the defense effort involved redirecting resources across agency boundaries. GAO found no clearly delineated roles and responsibilities for joint decision-making.

Without clearly documented methods, guidance, processes, and responsibilities for decision making, the effort runs the risk of failing to establish a strategic government-wide approach that would meaningfully enhance national defense, GAO found.

Given these findings, GAO made several recommendations. For example, GAO recommended that the HHS Secretary direct the Biodefense Coordination Team to establish a plan that includes change management practices—such as strategies for feedback, communication, and education—to strengthen the biodefense effort.

The GAO also recommended that the Secretary of HHS direct the Biodefense Coordination Team to clearly document guidance and methods for analyzing data collected from federal agencies.

 For more information on biodefense, see the Security Management article “Evolving Biothreats.”