States Have Spent Most of Federal Bioterrorism Preparedness Funds, GAO Finds
U.S. states and cities have spent or allocated at least 80% of the federal bioterrorism grants that they received in 2002 and 2003, according to a Government Accountability Office report released on Wednesday, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. States and cites also have spent more than half of the funds they received in the 12-month period that ended Aug. 30, 2004, the report found.
According to the report, many states and cities face problems that have affected their ability to spend the funds, such as hiring freezes and procurement regulations. The report said, "The prudent use of public funds -- particularly for new programs -- requires careful and often time-consuming planning." The report contradicts the results of an earlier study that prompted HHS to shift millions of dollars from state bioterrorism programs to a different program (Baldor, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/30).
In May 2004, HHS officials asked congressional appropriations committees to allow the department to shift $55 million from state bioterrorism programs to a new program, called "Cities Readiness Initiative," that seeks to prepare U.S. postal workers to deliver antibiotics or antidotes to 21 major cities within 48 hours of a bioterrorist attack. The program uses the funds to train mail carriers, install disease-surveillance equipment, purchase vaccines and construct new quarantine stations at U.S. airports. Grants for the 21 cities range from $5.1 million for New York City to $690,000 for Pittsburgh and St. Louis (American Health Line, 5/21/04).
Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who requested the GAO report, said the results indicate that HHS should not have shifted the funds from state bioterrorism programs.
Lieberman said, "Instead of working with jurisdictions to figure out what was going on, HHS reprogrammed the funds and undermined the ability of states and local governments to improve the very bioterrorism capabilities the grants were intended to create."
Kennedy said, "States have lived up to their responsibilities. There's no justification for diverting these funds to other purposes, and I urge the administration to restore the funds as soon as possible" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/30).