Bush expands multiagency bioterror defenses

President Bush has signed a directive, released today, that attempts to better integrate national security, medical, public health, intelligence, agricultural and law enforcement strategies to form a more comprehensive biodefense framework. Together they would form a common surveillance and response network.

The directive, 'Biodefense for the 21st Century,' outlines initiatives to improve the collection, analysis and distribution of intelligence on biological weapons, surveillance, and detection and response.

The administration has boosted funding for biodefense medical research and development at the National Institutes of Health, to over $1.5 billion annually in fiscal 2003 and 2004, which is 30 times the previous allocation. NIH has more than 50 biodefense initiatives in therapeutics, vaccines, diagnostics, and basic research including genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics.

The new National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasure Center at the Homeland Security Department is using cutting-edge science to study biological agents and provide a forensics center.

The administration outlined at a briefing the accomplishments of the last two years in building bioterror defenses by the Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, and Agriculture departments and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Federal agencies have strengthened the ability of food, agriculture and water sectors to prevent and reduce the effects of bioterror attacks, according to information from DHS. The administration has requested more than $500 million in the 2005 budget, a $370 million increase, to defend the agriculture and food system.

The BioWatch program, which monitors the air over major cities for biological releases, would get an injection of $118 million in 2005 under the president's budget, including funding to develop better monitors.

Medical surveillance is an important component of collecting data from hospital emergency rooms, including Defense Department clinics, Veterans Affairs hospitals, and clinical labs, veterinary clinics and food-poisoning centers, said Parney Albright, DHS assistant secretary for Science and Technology, speaking through an interactive White House forum.

'All this data will come together and will be coupled with threat information that we get associated with intelligence information that we also get from the intelligence community and also the environmental sampling capability. And it will all be brought together to look for signs of a bioterrorist attack,' he said.

The BioShield program, for which the administration secured $5.6 billion over 10 years, purchases new drugs and vaccines to protect against attack by biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear weapons. FDA has approved new medical countermeasures, including therapies for anthrax and radiation exposure and antidotes to nerve-agent poisoning.

The Public Health Information Network, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency of the Health and Human Services Department, can reach 1 million recipients quickly. According to information from HHS, this includes 90 percent of all county public health agencies so far, up from 68 percent in 2001. CDC's EPI-X system also connects more than 1,800 public health officials for immediate sharing of emerging public health data, compared with 200 in 2001.

All 50 states have bioterrorism response plans in place, such as for mass vaccinations, and have established systems to rapidly detect a terrorist event through mandatory reportable-disease detection systems. All states have plans in place for receiving and distributing Push Packages from the Strategic National Stockpile.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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