Legislators propose measure to speed up biodefense program

Lawmakers have introduced legislation hoping to improve an effort to develop medical countermeasures for WMD attacks.

The bill, introduced in the House this week, is an attempt to address the lagging pace of Project Bioshield, a federal effort that has delivered little since it was launched nearly three years ago.

Designed to create an incentive for private enterprise to develop biological countermeasures to unconventional weapons, Bioshield dangles cash in front of biotech firms but gives no money until a product is delivered.

Officials at the helm of the $5.6 million program have spent less than 25 percent of their budget, and late last year the Health and Human Services Department abandoned a $1 billion contract with a California company to provide 75 million doses of an anthrax vaccine.

President Bush announced the Bioshield program during his State of the Union address in 2004, indicating the initiative would counter threats such as the plague and Ebola. To date, however, the program has done little to address these potential biological agents.

Bioshield's limited progress has attracted the attention of representatives on the House Homeland Security Committee who have highlighted the program as a focus for oversight and hearings this year.

"I'd just say I'm very concerned with some of the recent problems that have come to light with respect to the Bioshield project," Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., said earlier this month. "For example, we all recently heard about the cancellation of VaxGen's contract for a next generation anthrax vaccine and, at the time, this was the only major procurement contract under BioShield."

Langevin, chairman of the homeland security subcommittee covering emerging threats, is a cosponsor of the new legislation.

Under the current program, the Homeland Security Department first identifies and assesses threats and countermeasures. Once that is completed, the Health and Human Services Department then selects firms to develop specific countermeasures.

The recently introduced bill is designed to accelerate the threat-assessment process. To the extent possible, the Homeland Security Department will be required to clump possible countermeasures into groups that might be able to address more than one chemical, biological or radiological agent.

"Rather than examining each threat individually, we should be looking for ways to properly group these threats together," Langevin said this week. "This legislation will promote a more strategic use of our nation's resources when procuring medical countermeasures."

The bill would also require that homeland security assessments of the most high-risk agents be completed by the end of 2007.

"Effective medical countermeasures for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents are a critical part of our nation's defense against terrorism, yet very few exist," said Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, a member of the homeland security subcommittee for emerging threats.

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.