Government Leaders Detail Biodefense Plan, Initiatives
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 29, 2004 The government's new plan to counter a bioterrorism attack on the United States was announced at an April 28 news conference here.
The announcement came as part of President Bush's directive to integrate anti- bioterrorism efforts across all government agencies.
"We've done a good job so far, but you haven't seen anything yet," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, after he gave reporters a tour of the department's new mobile command center.
Thompson, who was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, told reporters the "highest priority" of the government is to safeguard the American people.
The three leaders met earlier with other agency heads to discuss biodefense for the 21st century at the Health and Human Services building here.
"One of the fundamental requirements of a good plan of action for biodefense preparedness is that we in the federal government start coordinating closer with one another," Thompson said. "This is a responsibility that President Bush takes extremely seriously, and he wants us to make sure that we are prepared, and he has delegated that responsibility to us."
On the health front, Thompson said his department now spends 12 times as much on bioterror preparedness as it did three years ago. "And when you look at our shared responsibility with DHS, the increase is even more," he said.
Between 2001 and 2004, HHS funding has gone from $305 million to $3.9 billion, he said. "And we have requested $4.1 billion for next year," he added. "On bioterrorism related research alone, we've gone from spending $53 million in 2001 to $1.6 billion in 2004. That's more than 30 times as much for bioterrorism research."
Thompson noted that HHS has almost 10 times as many staff members working on bioterrorism readiness as it did in 2001. The department has increased food- imports inspections from 12,000 in 2001 to 60,000 in 2004, "and will do over 100,000 in this fiscal year," he added.
The HHS secretary said his department has dramatically improved its ability to respond to the threat of smallpox. In 2001, the department had only 15 million doses of smallpox vaccine available. Today, he said, there is enough vaccine for every man, woman and child in America, if necessary. The secretary also noted strides in anthrax vaccine research that he expects to be available by mid-2005.
Ridge reported several initiatives Homeland Security has implemented against a bioterrorism attack, a plan he also said begins with "better coordination within."
He said under the president's new national biodefense directive, all bioterrorism projects and programs will fall under a coordinated and focused strategic plan that will help "maximize resources, ensure a common unified effort across all federal agencies, and address any deficiency that we discover."
Ridge added that his department's plan for a robust bioterrorism defense includes the creation of a biological attack warning system and an improved distribution system for critical antibiotics and vaccines.
A biological agent detection program called BioWatch has been tested in most major cities, he said. BioWatch can deploy environmental sensors in major urban areas to sample the air for biological agents. The department tested the system earlier this month in Washington. Ridge said the president's budget this year contains $118 million to support and expand the program, including the development of improved environmental monitors.
In addition, Homeland Security has established a new National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center to study biological agents and to track down the source of any release that might occur, he said.
Ridge acknowledged that the bioterrorism threat is "too great for any single government entity to address," adding that, "all government agencies are working diligently together not just to meet the threat, but to defeat the threat as well."
Wolfowitz said the Defense Department has been the primary biodefense organization in government. He noted that DoD has heavily invested in facilities and science to protect service members against anthrax, smallpox and Ebola threats.
One of the most important efforts by DoD to combat bioterrorism, Wolfowitz said, was the establishment of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. For decades, he said, the laboratory has been in the forefront of researching, developing and fielding medical and nonmedical defenses against biological weapons. Wolfowitz said the institute is expanding its research base with the establishment of the National Biodefense Campus, now under construction at Fort Detrick.
He said the new lab and will work with Health and Human Services and Homeland Security to help the government respond to potentially catastrophic threats.
The Defense Department is spending $1.1 billion for the Installation Protection Program, which will provide chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear detection and defense capabilities for 200 DoD installations in the United States and overseas, Wolfowitz said. nother $800 million will be spent on new and emerging technologies in protection, detection, decontamination and medical countermeasure development against current and emerging threats.
The department also is establishing collaborative programs with U.S. allies, particularly through NATO, he said.