Bio-Terror Legislation (2012)

BIOTERRORBIBLE.COM: The following news and events are in respect to bio-terror and pandemic related legislation which occurred within the calendar year of 2012. The American government, more than any other nation, has been systematically preparing its population for an upcoming bio-terror related pandemic by passing draconian bio-terror legislation in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Bio-Terror Legislation (2001), Bio-Terror Legislation (2002), Bio-Terror Legislation (2003), Bio-Terror Legislation (2004), Bio-Terror Legislation (2005), Bio-Terror Legislation (2010), Bio-Terror Legislation (2011),  and Bio-Terror Legislation (2012).

Title: The Project BioShield Act: Issues for the 112th Congress
February 8, 2012
CRS Report

Abstract: In 2004, Congress passed the Project BioShield Act (P.L. 108-276) to provide the federal government with new authorities related to the development, procurement, and use of medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism agents.
As the expiration of some of these authorities approaches, Congress is considering whether these authorities have sufficiently contributed to national preparedness to merit extension.

The Project BioShield Act provides three main authorities: (1) guaranteeing a federal market for new CBRN medical countermeasures, (2) permitting emergency use of countermeasures that are either unapproved or have not been approved for the intended emergency use, and (3) relaxing regulatory requirements for some CBRN terrorism-related spending. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has used each of these authorities. The HHS obligated approximately $2.5 billion to guarantee a government market for countermeasures against anthrax, botulism, radiation, and smallpox. The HHS allowed the emergency use of several unapproved products, including during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. The HHS used expedited review authorities to approve contracts and grants related to CBRN countermeasure research and development.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act, 2004 (P.L. 108-90) advanceappropriated $5.593 billion to acquire CBRN countermeasures through Project BioShield for FY2004-FY2013. Through FY2012, subsequent Congresses have removed $1.876 billion from this account through rescissions and transfers, more than one-third of the advance appropriation.

The transfers from this account supported CBRN medical countermeasure advanced development, pandemic influenza preparedness and response, and basic biomedical research. Since passing the Project BioShield Act, subsequent Congresses have considered additional measures to further encourage countermeasure development. The Pandemic and All-Hazards

Preparedness Act (P.L. 109-417) created the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in HHS and modified the Project BioShield procurement process. Among other duties, BARDA oversees all of HHS’s Project BioShield procurements.

The 112th Congress is considering several Project BioShield-related policy questions. One question is whether the Project BioShield acquisition mechanism has sufficiently improved national preparedness relative to its costs to merit extension. If so, congressional policymakers may consider whether changes to the funding levels or how Congress provides Project BioShield funds would improve the program’s efficiency or performance. Additionally, congressional policymakers are considering whether the federal government sufficiently plans and coordinates its CBRN countermeasure efforts from basic research to distribution. Finally, Congress is considering whether changes to the emergency use authority will improve preparedness and

Three bills in the 112th Congress address some of these Project BioShield-related issues, H.R.
2356, H.R. 2405, and S. 1855 (CRS Report, 2012).

Biodefense Takes Hit In Obama’s Budget
February 16, 2012
Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: President Obama’s recent budget request for 2013 contains mixed news for the biodefense effort in the United States.

The effort for biodefense came under major criticism in 2011 for failing to deliver biodefense threat treatments despite spending approximately $60 billion in the previous decade, Nature reports.

Crystal Franco, a representative of the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC, said that winners for the budget proposal include the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

The apparent losers include military biological-defense development efforts and public health programs for U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s good news that there is more money for BARDA, and no significant cuts to basic science at NIH or to regulatory science at FDA,” Randall Larsen, the founding director of the WMD Center, said, according to Nature.

The DHS will get an $11 million boost for the BioWatch program, BARDA’s budget would see an increase from $415 million to $547 million and the FDA would receive $346 million for biodefense, which is close to last year’s budget. The CDC would experience a $47 million dip for the Strategic National Stockpile and the Department of Defense’s biological-defense program would see a $257 million cut in the proposed budget.

“Taking money out of the military research budget and leaving NIH funded at $1.3 billion, even though it hasn’t produced a single countermeasure, is pretty tragic,” Phillip Russell, an advisor to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said, Nature reports.

The budget also does not commit any funding to the construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas, which has yet to be constructed (Bio Prep Watch, 2012).

Title: Vaccine Access Act Passes Florida Senate
Date: March 7, 2012

Abstract: The State of Florida is one-step closer to being the 46th state that allows pharmacists to administer 
shingles and pneumonia vaccination to adults, in addition to flu shots.

The bill, the Vaccine Access Act (HB 509/SB 850) passed the Florida Senate Wednesday with a vote of 36-1.

Last month, the bill passed the Florida House of Representatives unanimously with a vote of 118-0.

Rep. Ana Rivas Logan (R-Miami) sponsored the House bill, while Senator Steve Oelrich (R-Gainesville) sponsored the Senate bill.

Now the bill will be sent to Governor Rick Scott, hopefully to be signed into law.

The passing of the Vaccine Access Act has drawn praise by some consumer and pharmacy groups.

Bill Mincy, BPharm, national board chair of Pharmacy Choice & Access Now (PCAN) commended the Senate saying, “This is a great day for Floridians and demonstrates the desire for patients to have improved access to the vaccines that are critical to their health and well-being. This measure is a way to keep health care costs down -- helping patients to receive preventative immunizations rather than expensive treatments.”

Michael Jackson, executive vice president and CEO of the Florida Pharmacy Association and a member of PCAN said, “It’s not every session the legislature is faced with an issue that receives such wide support, but the Vaccine Access Act is truly commonsense policy and significantly impacts the lives of Floridians in a positive way -- even saving their lives. We encourage Governor Scott to see this Act as a cost-saving and life-saving measure that Floridians can immediately experience the benefits of” (Examiner, 2012)

Title: Sen. Burr Applauds Passage Of Bipartisan Preparedness Bill
Date: March 9, 2012
Source: Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) issued a statement on Thursday following the passage of a bipartisan bill by the United States Senate to improve the preparedness of the U.S. against terrorist attacks.

The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act Reauthorization of 2011 builds on the lessons learned since a similar act was passed in 2006 to make targeted enhancements to existing response and preparedness programs and authorities. The bill is meant to improve the nation’s ability to deal with the medical and public health emergencies that can result from a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack.

“The American people must be protected if an attack occurs, and I am proud that the Senate has taken the critical step of strengthening our ability to respond to medical and public health emergencies by reauthorizing the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act,” Burr said. “I am hopeful that we will send this important legislation to reauthorize PAHPA to the President quickly so that he may sign it into law.”

The legislation was introduced by Senators Burr, Casey (D-Pa.), Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Harkin (D-Iowa) to respond to hazards ranging from a deliberate bioterrorism attack to an influenza pandemic.

“We have come a long way in improving our nation’s ability to respond to a bioterror attack or public health emergency since Congress passed the original PAHPA law in 2006, but the 2009 H1N1 pandemic underscored the reality that more remains to be done,” Burr said. “I am pleased that this bill will strengthen our existing medical and public health preparedness and response programs based on the lessons we have learned in recent years, including ensuring that the FDA has the tools it needs to advance the medical countermeasures necessary to respond to modern day threats” (Bio Prep Watch, 2012).

Title: Government To Reconsider Nerve Agent Pesticides
Date: March 31, 2012
Source: Independent

Abstract:  The Government is to reconsider its refusal to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, the nerve-agent chemicals blamed for the collapse of bee colonies worldwide, the chief scientist at the Department of the Environment, Sir Robert Watson, told The Independent.

Sir Robert, a former head of the UN climate panel, moved quickly to begin a comprehensive re-evaluation of the Government's stance after two new scientific studies, from Britain and France, strongly linked neonicotinoid use to bee declines.

He said the new studies, and others, would be closely analysed.

The Government has refused previous requests to consider a precautionary suspension of the chemicals, which have been banned in France and Italy, despite mounting evidence that they are harmful to bees and other pollinating insects, even in minute doses.

Bees' role in pollinating crops is worth billions of pounds annually to global agriculture.

Even on Thursday, after the new studies were published, a spokesman for Defra said the new research did not change the Government's position, and that "the evidence shows that neonicotinoids do not pose an unacceptable risk to honey bees".

But yesterday Sir Robert said: "The real Defra position is the following: we will absolutely look at the University of Stirling work, the French work, and the American work that came out a couple of months ago [a study by the US government's leading bee researcher, Dr Jeffrey Pettis, which showed that exposure to microscopic doses of neonicotinoids weakened bees' resistance to disease]. We must look at this in real detail to see whether or not the current British position is correct or is incorrect.

He added: "I want to get a really careful analysis of all three papers, and I've asked for a briefing on some ongoing work that we've been doing ourselves. I want this all reassessed, very, very carefully" (Independent, 2012).

Title: NSABB Calls For International Biosecurity Guidelines
Date: April 20, 2012
Source: Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: The top U.S. government biosecurity committee recently called for the development of international guidelines to guide research on dangerous flu strains.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding the publication of studies by two independent teams who created strains of H5N1 influenza transmissible in ferrets, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity proposed talks to draft global guidelines for conducting and communicating potentially dangerous work, according to NewScientist.com.

“The US government and others are going to have to come up with a credible plan for limited distribution of information, when the next, last-minute review points to the need for this,” David Relman of Stanford University said, NewScientist.com reports.

The NSABB originally requested that some of the results of the two studies not be published. In early April, the advisory board reversed its original findings in light of more information supplied about the results and ramifications of the work.

Relman was one of six members of the NSABB who did not vote for the reversal. The dissenters said that the research could enable misuse. They pointed out that the new strains are airborne and just as pathogenic as the parent H5N1 strain.

Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota also dissented. In a confidential letter leaked to the journal Science, Osterholm said that the new information presented to the board was biased towards publication. He said that the board did not consider the chances that well-meaning scientists could attempt to repeat the experiments without adequate biosafety measures
(BioPrep Watch, 2012).

Title: Kuala Lumpur Bioweapons Legislation Moves Forward
Date: April 26, 2012

Abstract: Malaysian officials recently announced that they will be prepared to submit a major bill regulating potential bioweapons research to the Attorney General’s Chambers by the end of the year.

The legislation, which has already been written, is due to be presented to the Malaysian Defense Ministry for review next week, according to TheSunDaily.my.

“We will be going into the details (of the bill) and seek opinions from the related agencies and parties. It has been drafted, now it’s the feedback stage,” Defense Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said, TheSunDaily.my reports.

Ahmad Zahid said that the legislation would be forwarded to the attorney general after the next general election and hopefully before next year.

The defense minister did not comment further on the contents of the bill, but it is believed to contain regulations that will give the government the right to inspect, license and audit research facilities and university laboratories that develop biochemical materials that could be used to produce weapons agents.

Director-General Datuk Dr Abdul Ghaffar Ramli of the defense ministry’s Science and Technology Institute for Defense previously said that the bill was written to ensure no one in Malaysia would be able to make or keep biochemical materials in the country.

“There is a world concern about the proliferation of biological weapons. This is seen as a poor-man’s weapon of mass destruction as the equipment to create these weapons are becoming cheaper and smaller,” Ghaffar said, TheSunDaily.my reports. “So we have to create a law here to say that nobody is allowed to assist or create such biological materials for the use of warfare or mass destruction” (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

Title: Senate Committee Calls For More Oversight On Risky Biological Research
Date: April 27, 2012
Source: Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: Senators raised concerns about oversight issues on government funded biological research at a Thursday hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

“When the American people pay for scientific research intended for the common good, they have a right to expect that their money will not be used to facilitate terrorism,” Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) said, referring to the recent controversy surrounding NIH funded research to create a highly contagious airborne form of the H5N1 bird flu virus. “These are not hypothetical threats.”

Democrats and Republicans both stressed the importance of enacting more oversight for any sort of dual use research.

“We need to put in place better systems to track this kind of research at each experimental stage rather than waiting till its ready for publication to make decisions about what can or can’t be revealed,” Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and Dr. Paul Keim, the chair of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, agreed with the senators’ remarks, but also warned against the possibility of regulatory oversight stifling future research.

“It is critical that we establish policy that intensely monitors high potential dual use research of concern from cradle to grave in order to protect us from misuse, but also to free low-potential DURC research from onerous regulations,” Keim said (Bio Prep Watch, 2012).

Title: U.S. Urges Nigeria To Pass Biosafety Laws
Date: May 1, 2012

Abstract: The U.S. Department of State recently announced that it would not aid the development of a biotechnology sector in Nigeria until the country adopts an appropriate legal framework.

Fatuma Sanneh, a state department economics and commerce officer, said that Nigeria’s failure to enact biosafety laws would restrict aid from the United States, according to AllAfrica.com.

“We have concern about the law, it has to be in place,” Sanneh said, Tribune.com.ng reports.

Sanneh exchanged views with Professor Bamidele Solomon, the director-general of Nigeria’s National Biotechnology Development Agency, while visiting Abuja.

During an earlier welcome address, Solomon said that two major U.S. biotech companies, Monsanto and Syngenta, have shown reservations about engaging in serious dialogue about biotechnology prospects in Nigeria.

Solomon said that he was optimistic that biosafety laws would soon be enacted in Nigeria. He appealed to the U.S. delegation to assist in facilitating collaboration between Nigeria and U.S. biotech companies so that Nigeria could catch up quickly in the evolving global bio-economy.

Clive James, the founder of the International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, recently said that Nigeria was making significant strides towards mainstreaming biotechnology in national legislation and policy frameworks, according to AfricaScienceNews.org.

Regardless, it has been over five years since Nigeria began efforts to craft significant biosafety legislation, which would provide a framework for the use of genetically modified crops, according to SciDev.net (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

Title: House Committee Moves On WMD Prevention And Preparedness Act
Date: May 9, 2012

Abstract: Representatives of the House Homeland Security Committee voted unanimously to approve H.R. 2356, the WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011, on Wednesday.

“Approval today of H.R. 2356 will mark the second consecutive Congress that this committee has produced comprehensive legislation to enhance our ability to be prepared for, respond to, and recover from a WMD attack,” Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said upon introducing the bill.

The bill is 97 pages long and is intended to enhance Homeland Security’s ability to confront issues surrounding WMDs.

The bill was introduced in June by Representative Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), and includes provisions calling for the development of a national biodefense plan, including the creation of an appointed Special Assistant to the President for Biodefense. In addition, the bill also calls for a separate national biosurveillance strategy.

Ranking Member Thompson recognized Pascrell for the hard work he put into authoring the bill, noting that “Representative Pascrell deserves credit for taking on the complex challenge of addressing the WMD threat and producing the WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act.”

During the markup session, a total of eight amendments were made to the bill, each made in the nature of a substitute. The eight amendments were all approved by unanimous consent, and the Committee adopted H.R. 2356, as amended, by unanimous consent (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

Title: House Homeland Security Committee Addresses Port Security
Date: May 10, 2012

Abstract: The House Homeland Security Committee unanimously passed the Gauging American Port Security Act, or GAPS act, at a committee markup meeting on Wednesday.

The GAPS act, H.R. 4005, was introduced by Representative Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), and will direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a thorough study into potential gaps in US port security.

“Our ports remain one of our country’s greatest economic resources, and [they provide] our nation with a link to the rest of the world and our global economy,” Hahn said. “Because of their importance, ports continue to face emerging threats that are unique only to them.”

Hahn said that there are many ways in which a terrorist could smuggle a bomb into an American port and cited a recent Congressional Research Service report that warned that “a 10-20 kiloton weapon detonated in a major seaport would kill 50,000 to one million people and would result in direct property damage of $50 to $500 billion, losses due to trade disruption of $100 to $200 billion, and indirect costs of $300 billion to $1.2 trillion…This is simply an unacceptable risk we must act upon.”

In addition to the study, the GAPS act would also require the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit a classified report to Congress. The report would outline remaining gaps in US port security, and include a prioritized plan for addressing them.

The bill was ordered to be reported to the House floor with a favorable recommendation by the House Homeland Security Committee (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

Title: House Committee Passes WMD Legislation
Date: May 14, 2012

Abstract: The U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security recently passed multiple bills aimed at improving the federal government’s ability to prepare for and prevent an attack using weapons of mass destruction.

In a unanimous vote, the committee passed the “WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011,” which was introduced by the Committee’s chairman Representative Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.).

“This legislation implements many of the recommendations of the WMD Commission, which in 2008 delivered the dire warning that terrorists are likely to deploy a weapon of mass destruction somewhere in the world by the end of 2013,” King said.

The new legislation will establish a special assistant to the president for biodefense, require the Department of Homeland Security to establish a national biosurveillance strategy and develop a national biodefense plan and coordinated budget that will address capability gaps and spending inefficiencies.

“Today’s committee passage of this vital legislation is an important step in further securing our homeland against such an attack here,” King said. “I am pleased to have joined Rep. Bill Pascrell, who has been an effective proponent in moving WMD legislation through Congress.”

In addition, the legislation calls for the vaccination of first responders against possible bioweapon agents and authorizes the Securing the Cities program to allow for the interdiction of a radiological device in high-risk cities (BioPrepWatch, 2012).

Title: Congress Proposes WMD Biodefense Bill
Date: May 17, 2012

Abstract: Congress will soon debate H.R. 2356, the WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011, before four different House committees before the bill heads to the Senate for further debate.

The House committees on Select Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Transportation and Infrastructure ,and Energy and Commerce will debate the bill four years after a commission mandated by Congress defined bioterrorism as a grave national threat. The bill calls for the development of a national biodefense plan with a coordinated budget across government agencies and departments, Homeland Security Newswire reports.

The bill would also require the appointment of a special assistant to the president for biodefense, a position that has been divided among several assistants in the Obama administration. Critics to the current way the government deals with bioterrorism cite the 108 congressional committees and subcommittees that oversee different parts of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Congress has organized itself in a way to make it impossible for anything related to terrorism to be enacted,” former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), said, according to the Huffington Post. “The greatest WMD threat facing the United States is not nuclear or chemical or radiological. It’s biological. As our most significant threat, it deserves to have a permanent, accountable, sufficient visibility so that this issue can be kept before the public” (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

Title: House Passes The Weapons Of Mass Destruction Intelligence And Information Sharing Act
Date: June 1, 2012

Abstract: The House of Representatives passed HR 2764, or the Weapons of Mass Destruction Intelligence and Information Sharing Act, this week.

The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Meehan, provides important guidance to the Department of Homeland Security to keep the United States ahead of enemies who would employ weapons of mass destruction.

“I’m very pleased that the House today passed this legislation without objection,” Meehan said. “Loose chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria and Libya getting into the hands of al Qaeda terrorists are cause for great concern; and a nuclear armed Iran is a top national security threat. With multiple al Qaeda affiliate networks around the world targeting the U.S. and our allies – it is imperative that we remain as vigilant as ever.This bill ensures that intelligence analysis and dissemination regarding dangerous weapons continue to be a priority for our nation.”

HR 2764 also provides guidance for ongoing activities for Homeland Security to engage in and support intelligence activities related to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats and to share timely intelligence and prevention tools with partners at the federal, state and other local levels.

“This legislation will better secure our homeland from terrorists seeking to deploy a weapon of mass destruction against us, a horrific scenario that the WMD Commission has said is increasingly likely,” Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King said. “HR 2764 will ensure that critical intelligence about chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats is shared by DHS with Federal, state, and local officials. Subcommittee Chairman Meehan deserves great credit for dedicating his time on the Committee to working on critical intelligence and information sharing issues such as this” (BioPrepWatch, 2012).

Title: Threat Reduction Programs Shift Focus To Bioweapons
Date: June 14, 2012

Abstract: A two decade-long U.S. Department of Defense program designed to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction from the former Soviet Union is shifting its focus from nuclear to biological weapons and from Russia to Southeast Asia and Africa.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global and Strategic Affairs Madelyn R. Creedon recently told a Senate panel that the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, established in 1991, is gradually shifting its efforts to biological threat reduction as it adapts to take on emerging threats in new regions.

“With all the work that’s gone on in Russia over the better part of the last 20 years a lot has been accomplished,” Creedon said.

Creedon recently testified before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities, which was meeting to review President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request for programs that seek to slow the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons around the world.

“We do continue to do a variety of work with Russia and in time that will phase down a bit,” Creedon said. “But we also value the relationship with Russia and in that context are seeking an extension of the umbrella agreement that allows for the work in Russia.”

The current agreement ends in 2013, but an extension is in place to allow some work to continue in sustainment operations.

Creedon also said that the DOD is also working in some states in the former Soviet Union, particularly Kazakhstan and Ukraine, that have large biological security programs, but the effort is beginning to change.

“We are beginning to shift focus in the biological program to Africa and the Middle East, so in time we will transition over to those areas of the world as well,” Creedon said (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

Title: BioWatch Funding In Jeopardy
Date: June 19, 2012

Abstract: Funding for BioWatch, the U.S. early warning system to detect deadly pathogens in major cities, may be in peril because of increased costs.

Cost estimates for BioWatch have reached $5.7 billion, six times the initial assessment. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to open bidding before the next phase of the program begins in October, according to the Washington Post.

The five year contract is valued at as much as $3.1 billion and would provide for upgrades to the system that allow collected data to be automatically transmitted to laboratories, which would eliminate the manual handling of specimens.

BioWatch has been plagued by delays and cost overruns since President George W. Bush began the program in 2003.

Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida), chairman of the House subcommittee that holds jurisdiction over the program, said he wants assurances that costs are now under control. He has asked the Government Accountability Office to analyze the proposed spending.

“The program could find itself in danger of being cut back or completely scrapped if law­makers determine that it’s becoming a major and costly acquisition failure,’’ Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a partner with Monument Policy Group, a Washington-based consulting firm, and staff director for the House Homeland Security Committee from 2005 through 2008, said, the Washington Post reports (BioPrepWatch, 2012).

Title: Lawmakers Call For Answers On BioWatch Security System
Date: July 19, 2012
LA Times

Abstract: Congressional leaders from both parties are pressing Homeland Security Secretary 
Janet Napolitanoto address newly raised questions about BioWatch, the nation's system for detecting deadly biological attacks.

In letters issued Thursday and last week, the leaders said their questions were prompted by a July 8 Los Angeles Times article that identified repeated shortcomings in BioWatch's performance, including dozens of false alarms that signaled apparent terrorist attacks when none had occurred.

The first of the letters was sent last week by Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. Thursday's letters were signed by the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who heads the panel's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Upton and Stearns requested emails and other internal Homeland Security documents related to BioWatch. Those materials, the congressmen wrote, might "assist the committee in finding out how the BioWatch program is actually performing, and whether it is meeting public protection goals without unduly disrupting the public health system and local emergency responders."

In a separate letter sent Thursday to Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Upton and Stearns asked for other documents related to BioWatch, which the agency has worked with since the biodetection system was deployed in more than 30 major cities in 2003.

Thompson, in his letter to Napolitano, cited the newspaper article's spotlighting of deficiencies with both the existing BioWatch system and "Generation 3," intended to provide swifter and less costly biodetection. The Times reported that prototypes for the new, automated technology have malfunctioned in field and laboratory testing over the last several years.

Napolitano and her aides are weighing whether to go forward with Generation 3, which would cost about $3.1 billion over the next five years, on top of the roughly $1 billion that BioWatch has already cost taxpayers.

Thompson, noting Homeland Security's past assurances of solid performance, said it was "troubling" that "in this austere budget environment, the department appears committed to the development of this program — at the expense of other important Homeland Security programs — despite evidence that an accurate, effective BioWatch technology program may not be feasible."

The Times article, based on previously unpublicized government documents and interviews with scientists familiar with BioWatch's operations, illuminated two persistent problems: The system has been unable to distinguish between some lethal pathogens and organisms that pose no harm to humans. And though no biological attack has occurred during its nine years of operation, tests and computer modeling suggest it would have difficulty detecting one because of inadequate sensitivity.

The article also reported that, as of 2008, federal agencies had documented 56 BioWatch false alarms, most of them never disclosed to the public. One of the incidents threatened to disrupt the final night of the August 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, when Barack Obamaaccepted his party's nomination for president.

In their letter to Napolitano, Upton and Stearns noted that Homeland Security's chief medical officer, Dr. Alexander Garza, had said The Times' reporting of the false alarms was "unsubstantiated." In a department Web posting July 12, Garza said: "To date, more than 7 million tests have been performed by dedicated public health lab officials and there has never been a false positive result."

The congressmen, who were unavailable for further comment Thursday, reacted skeptically to Garza's characterization of the events.

"We note that Dr. Garza's representation that BioWatch has never had a false positive result is at odds not only with the incidents reported by the Los Angeles Times but also with the observation in an October 2010 report on the BioWatch program by the National Academy of Sciences," the lawmakers wrote.

Upton and Stearns alluded to an academy committee that rejected Homeland Security's assertion that the dozens of incidents, which the department calls BioWatch Actionable Results, or BARs, were not false positives. The committee concluded that every BAR "signaled the potential occurrence of a terrorist attack when none has occurred."

A Homeland Security spokesman said Thursday that the department would respond to the members of Congress "directly, not through the media" (LA Times, 2012)

Title: International Bioterror Policy, Weapons Of Bioterrorism
Date: July 26, 2012

Abstract: Israel recently announced that it is prepared to intervene militarily should Syria lose control of its chemical or biological arsenal to Islamic militants.

Reflecting fears that Syria’s civil war may be entering a new phase, Israeli officials have reported a surge in demand for gas masks among civilians. Syria threatened that it would use its arsenal of chemical and biological weapons against a foreign attack, but Israeli defense officials are more concerned that groups like Hezbollah could acquire them should the regime disintegrate, according to IsraelNationalNews.com.

“In the moment we see that the Syrians transfer chemical and biological weapons to Hezbollah, this is a red line for us and from our point of view it‘s a clear ‘casus belli,’” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, IsraelNationalNews.com reports. “We will act decisively and without hesitation or restraint. It will be a completely different ball game and we hope for the understanding of the international community.”

Retired Israeli general Shlomo Brom joined several other experts in downplaying the risk posed by Syria’s strategic weapons, despite the Israeli government’s increasing warnings. Brom said that the components of chemical weapons and their delivery systems are usually held in various locations and that it would be difficult for small groups to collect and assemble them, according to CBSNews.com (BioPrepWatch, 2012).

Title: Federal Preparedness Funding Faces Major Cuts
Date: July 31, 2012

Abstract: If automatic budget cuts are enacted, the federal grant program used to help states improve public health emergency preparedness could lose more than $48 million in funding in 2013, an almost eight percent drop.

The figures on Public Health Emergency Preparedness grants are included in a recently released report from Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The report outlines the impact of automatic sequestered cuts on non-defense jobs and services, according to CIDRAP News.

The automatic sequestered cuts were part of a bipartisan bill passed in August that raised the national debt limit. The cuts were intended to push a fiscal super-committee to create an alternative deficit-reduction plan. The group failed, and now Congress must find a way to address $109 billion in cuts that are scheduled to begin in January.

The report’s section on PHEP grants shows the possible sequester cuts for each state and U.S. territory and includes fiscal year 2012 funding. According to the report, North Carolina faces nearly $1.5 million in cuts and Colorado could see $760,000 in cuts to PHEP funding, CIDRAP News reports.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said the cuts would have a considerable impact on all parts of the federal budget, but he questioned the accuracy of Harkin’s work. He said the Obama administration has yet to provide any concrete information for making such assumptions.

“For example, Congress does not know the amount of the across-the-board cut. As the Chairman’s report states, it could be anywhere between 7.8 percent and 8.4 percent,” Shelby said, CIDRAP News reports. “In real terms, that is a difference of $1 billion in labor/HHS program reductions.”

Shelby said that the real impact will remain unknown for some time because it remains unclear which programs will be exempt. The more exemptions the higher the impact will be on those that are affected (BioPrepWatch, 2012).

Title: Texas Attempts To Contain Chronic Wasting Disease With New Restrictions
Date: September 5, 2012
Outdoor Life

Abstract: Following Ohio and Missouri, Texas is the latest state to implement additional restrictions to help prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) across the state’s whitetail and mule deer herds.

Earlier this summer, two mule deer tested positive for CWD in the desert bordering New Mexico. In response, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) staff proposed new rules affecting both hunters and landowners in the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle region.

The rules are specific down to the counties, and will be most strict in Hudspeth and Culberson counties — now part of the newly established Containment Zone, where deer testing positive for CWD have previously been found.

Hunters in the Containment Zone will have mandatory check stations where TPWD will collect brain tissue to test for CWD. Surrounding the Containment Zone, a High Risk Zone has been created, as well as a third buffer zone that extends to the western side of the Panhandle.

Check stations are voluntary in the High Risk Zone, but the rules regarding deer movement would be similar to the Containment Zone.

Landowners and game managers will also face stricter rules for moving and breeding deer. No permits for deer movement and no new deer breeder facilities will be issued by the TPWD within the Containment Zone.

Current DMP permits allow landowners to capture whitetail bucks on their property and put them in pens with does for breeding. All of the deer are then released back onto the permit holder’s property.

The TPWD is taking a zero tolerance approach on this and no animals will be allowed to move off the ranches where they were originally captured. It’s a necessary measure to prevent deer from moving long distances and spreading the disease (deer cannot be tested for CWD while they’re alive because brain samples are needed for testing).

The TPWD’s current goal is containment. With other more drastic measures including killing off deer in contained areas, it’s the best approach the TPWD can take at this point (Outdoor Life, 2012).