Homeland Security Department Could Affect Public Health, Experts at Congressional Hearing Predict
Legislators, health advisers and General Accounting Office officials yesterday said at a House hearing that President Bush's proposal to move public health responsibilities from HHS to the proposed Department of Homeland Security could "undermine the basic effort to keep Americans healthy" in part because public health concerns would "take a backseat" to bioterrorism threats, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Anderson, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/26). The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing was held after House Majority Leader and Chair of the Select Committee on Homeland Security Dick Armey (R-Texas) yesterday formally introduced Bush's plan (HR 5005) for the new department (CQ Daily Monitor, 6/25). Congress must approve the department, which would absorb operations, employees and funds from existing federal agencies, including parts of the CDC and the NIH, and would have an annual budget of $37.5 billion and 170,000 employees (American Health Line, 6/10). The proposal would transfer programs that "help state and local governments cope with outbreaks of naturally occurring diseases and pathogens" -- including the Office of Emergency Preparedness, the Strategic National Stockpile and several programs at the CDC -- from HHS to the new department, a GAO report released yesterday stated.
However, Bush's plan "does not clearly provide a structure" that would allow the programs to assist with both homeland security and public health, GAO Director of Public Health Issues Janet Heinrich said (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/26). Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) added that the proposal would "increase the 'fragmentation'" in agencies dealing with bioterrorism and public health (Mullins, CongressDaily, 6/25). Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, "It may seriously affect our ability to respond to serious threats to the health of the American people." In addition, Ronald Atlas, president-elect of the American Society for Microbiology and a University of Louisville biology professor, said lawmakers should "ensure that federal research into infectious diseases remains under the control of HHS" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/26). The National Academy of Sciences on Monday released a report that said it is "essential" for Congress to coordinate future research and development within a potential Department of Homeland Security (Schmid, AP/Nando Times, 6/25).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.