Lawmakers Seek Increased Accountability on DHS Plans To Prevent Bioterrorism
Concerned that the Department of Health Services "is stumbling in its use of millions of dollars in federal bioterrorism grants," Assembly member Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), chair of the budget subcommittee on health and human services, on Monday said that he will ask the Legislative Analyst's Office for an independent assessment of grant income and spending, the Sacramento Bee reports.
De La Torre's request follows action on Friday from Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), who asked DHS chief Sandra Shewry for a detailed account of how the department has spent the grants, which total about $100 million.
Legislative actions regarding DHS bioterrorist attack prevention funding, which also include plans for a public hearing in the Assembly later this month, following media reports on California's preparedness for a potential bioterrorist attack. Legislators have expressed concern that DHS officials "could not quickly provide details to the Bee of how the bioterror money has been spent," the Bee reports.
DHS on Friday provided more information, including figures showing that the state has committed or spent $67.5 million in bioterrorism funding between Aug. 31, 1999, and the end of 2004. John Eastman, chief of the DHS budget section, said the department has received about $96 million in federal grants earmarked for bioterrorist attack prevention. He added that the department expects to use the remaining $28.5 million by the time the current grant period ends on Aug. 31.
DHS officials also identified eight "focus areas" for spending, in which about $47 million has been distributed. These areas included:
- $13 million for preparedness planning and readiness assessment, including such activities as developing a smallpox preparedness plan, establishing vaccination teams, updating a pandemic flu plan and preparing for rapid distribution of vaccines, antibiotics and medical supplies if necessary;
- $11.3 million for laboratory capacity for biological and chemical agents;
- $10.9 million for surveillance and epidemiology;
- $4.1 million for communications and information technology;
- $3.9 million for education and training;
- $2.4 million for risk communications and health information dissemination; and
- $1 million for vaccines and medicines to go to the Strategic National Stockpile (Lau, Sacramento Bee, 2/1).
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