GAO Report Says Federal Bioterrorism Plan Has Gaps
The federal plan to respond to bioterrorism is "a collection of poorly coordinated, often underfunded, projects that span 11 separate Cabinet-level agencies," a General Accounting Office draft report says. The report states that many governmental anti-bioterrorism programs are in their "infancy, with little more than start-up money." Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who requested the report, have asked the Bush administration to spend an additional $1 billion to upgrade public laboratories, train medical personnel, investigate new vaccines and treatments and secure biological weapon stockpiles. In this year's budget, the Bush administration has allotted $343 million to deal with biological attacks, $113 million of which went to the Pentagon to protect soldiers in the field, the Washington Post reports. The remainder went to areas such as environmental assessments, pharmaceutical stockpiles and computer upgrades. Though the Defense Department and other federal agencies have spent some money on bioterrorism prevention and detection, Frist and Kennedy "argue it is nowhere near enough." The GAO found that the CDC's bioterrorism program, which began in 1999, did not begin receiving funds until this fiscal year. The CDC's budget includes $148 million for anti-bioterrorism efforts, much of which is spent to develop vaccines or build pharmaceutical stockpiles. The GAO report also notes that none of the National Guard's civil support teams, designed to respond to attacks by weapons of mass destruction within four hours, had received certification or were in use. The Pentagon received $93 million for the teams. Another problem the report found is that "critical" departments such as Transportation and Agriculture "were left out of the early planning entirely." In addition, the FBI and CDC have separate lists of biological agents they consider to be of concern; the CDC, for example, includes smallpox while the FBI does not (Connolly, Washington Post, 9/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.