Will the U.S. Keep Buying Medicine for 'Black Swan' Attacks?

Mei Li, senior scientist at Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals, works to develop an anti-radiation drug in 2004. Mei Li, senior scientist at Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals, works to develop an anti-radiation drug in 2004. Lenny Ignelzi/AP File Photo

Congress will weigh this year whether to continue spending billions of dollars on antidotes for attacks seen as relatively unlikely, but potentially devastating.

Lawmakers helped to establish Project Bioshield in 2004 to incentivize otherwise unprofitable work on treatments for exotic possible terrorism tools, such as anthrax and botulinum toxin. In coming months, though, the decade-old initiative could face unprecedented scrutiny of its funding, in part due to a dearth of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks in the United States since its launch, says a newly published Congressional Research Service report.

"Congressional policymakers could decide not to fund Project Bioshield," analyst Frank Gottron said in the assessment. "Given the continued absence of any [WMD] terrorist attacks in the United States since 2001, [they] could deem that the perceived risk of an attack no longer justifies [the] continued investment."

"Alternatively, policymakers could deem other, more conventional, countermeasure procurement methods sufficient or more efficient than Project Bioshield and redirect funding to those programs," Gottron wrote.

Congress guaranteed Project Bioshield a steady $560 million in annual funding for its first decade by setting aside billions in advance. The Health and Human Services Department set aside more than half of the program's 10-year, $5.6 billion "special reserve fund" to acquire treatments for symptoms of a wide variety of potential unconventional assaults. Of the $3.3 billion earmarked for WMD threats, about one-third went toward smallpox drugs, in case the long-eradicated virus is ever rebuilt or released from a rare laboratory stockpile.

Lawmakers last year authorized the program to continue receiving the same amount of money through fiscal 2018. Rather than maintaining its special reserve fund, though, they left funding levels to be determined through the annual appropriations process.

The program received $255 million in fiscal 2014 appropriations, and the Obama administration is seeking $415 million in the upcoming budget cycle.

"The switch to annual appropriations may complicate [the Health and Human Services Department's] long-term countermeasure development and acquisition planning," Gottron wrote. "Some developers contend that an advance appropriation helps company management more favorably consider a potential countermeasure when weighing internal investment opportunity costs."

Lawmakers may ultimately reinstate an approach similar to the 10-year reserve fund, the analyst added.

"Developers might prefer advance appropriations for as long a period as possible," he wrote. "However, providing an advance appropriation during the current fiscal environment may prove more difficult than in 2003."

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:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

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