Legislation To Address Vaccines, Treatments for Pandemics and Bioterror Attacks Introduced
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has introduced legislation that would establish the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency, which would focus on research and development of drugs and vaccines to counter the effects of potential disease pandemics or bioterrorist attacks, the Washington Post reports. The agency would be granted a full exemption from the Freedom of Information Act, which no other agency has, according to the Post.
Burr's office says that the full exemption is necessary to protect highly sensitive information.
However, Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, said, "It is an act of contempt for the public and for open government that hopefully will not be adopted. They are asking for more of an exemption than the CIA, more than the NSA (National Security Agency) has, more than any military or intelligence organization has."
Doug Heye, a spokesperson for Burr, said, "It's the intention of the agency to provide information, not to withhold information. But there will be certain times where for national security reasons certain information would have to be withheld." Heye cited as an example a case in which the new agency learned that a virus could be genetically enhanced to become lethal, saying that information would not be released (Lee, Washington Post, 11/14).