Directive defines agency roles in battling bioterrorism

Three top Bush administration officials Wednesday announced a presidential directive that sets out the U.S. strategy to prepare for possible bioterrorist attacks in the United States or overseas.

The publicly released directive, an edited version of a longer classified document, orders no new major programs but specifies the responsibilities of U.S. agencies in preventing, detecting and responding to acts of bioterrorism.

The full document, entitled Biodefense for the 21st Century, was not released in order to prevent disclosing information about U.S. vulnerabilities, according to senior administration officials who spoke at a press briefing at the Health and Human Services Department.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz formally introduced the new directive that President Bush reportedly signed last week.

"With today's announcement, the president has put forward a new initiative that will fully integrate our current bioterrorism efforts across the public health, medical, law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security community," Ridge said.

Jerome Hauer, a former senior HHS official and sometime critic of U.S. bioterrorist response policies, praised the new directive, saying that poor interagency coordination had inhibited U.S. readiness efforts in the past. The new directive should enhance U.S. ability to develop new technologies, share intelligence and speed reporting of possible incidents, he said.

The directive is "more to show continued coordination and cooperation" among the agencies than to announce new programs, Hauer told Global Security Newswire.

He also applauded Thompson's efforts, saying the former Wisconsin governor recognized the bioterrorist threat soon after taking his post in 2001. Thompson's department "has done an enormous amount in the last three years, and a lot of that started before Sept. 11," Hauer said.

Under the initiative, HHS would take the lead responsibility for anticipating future biological threats, including ways in which terrorists might use biotechnology or new toxins. In addition, the department would coordinate development of medical countermeasures in the United States and preparing for the medical response needed to treat mass casualties.

In particular, Thompson said his department is "working to create a national surge capacity" to quickly provide hospitals and agencies with medical supplies to treat large numbers of stricken patients. This capacity would supplement existing "push packages" that can deliver supplies to any medical facility in the nation within 10 hours.

Efforts to be led by the Homeland Security Department include the BioWatch surveillance program, a network of environmental sensors designed to detect biological agents. Ridge said the department requested $118 million in fiscal 2005 to fund and expand the BioWatch program and added that his agency would lead a new interagency group, the National Biosurveillance Group, to integrate threat information and distribute it to appropriate officials.

The plan calls for the Defense Department to continue leading an effort to build a "national bioforensics analysis" facility at Fort Detrick, Md., where scientists would work to identify the origin of biological agents discovered or used in the United States.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.