Pentagon Adviser Questions Congress’ Bioterrorism Preparedness Plan
Congress' plan for shoring up the nation's defenses against biological attacks is inadequate, as lawmakers are not doing much more than simply "throwing money against a problem," according to a top Pentagon adviser. In an interview published on the Web site of Health Affairs, George Poste, chair of a Defense Department bioterrorism task force, said that despite allocating ample funding for anti-bioterror initiatives, lawmakers have not "set up a realistic set of priorities as to what is doable within one year, three years, five years or what will require 10 years" (Health Affairs release, 6/5). Of the $4.6 billion plan approved by Congress last month and awaiting President Bush's signature, Poste said, "[T]hese monies have been allocated in a rather knee-jerk fashion without careful assessment. ... The current approach may make the legislators feel good and allow the American people to feel that all is well, but the risk is that five years from now the defense of this great republic will be no better served than it is today, thanks to the lack of stringent assessment of what is needed, how it will be achieved, and who will be held accountable for progress" (Health Affairs, 6/5). Poste, a pathologist and a member of the Defense Department's Defense Science Board, said that the nation should focus more on diagnosing and heading off bioterrorist attacks rather than trying to prevent them. An essential component of this effort is bolstering the nation's public health system, which has fallen victim to "appalling neglect ... over the past three decades" as a result of low government reimbursements, Poste said. He added, "Over the next 12 months, we need to completely rebuild the vital first line of public health defense" (Health Affairs release, 6/5). The complete interview is available online.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.