President Boosts Nation's 'Biodefense' Budget
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2002 "We must do everything in our power -- everything -- to protect our fellow Americans," President Bush said today at the University of Pittsburgh. And that's why he wants nearly $6 billion to help America defend against anthrax and other forms of biological terrorism.
The goal, the president said, is to make "America as safe as it can possibly be." His fiscal 2003 budget request to Congress Feb. 4 includes $5.9 billion for biodefense, an increase of $4.5 billon from the 2002 level. White House officials say the increase is intended to improve infrastructure, response efforts and scientific research and development.
"It's money that we've got to spend," Bush said. "It's money that'll have a good impact on the country. It's money that will enable me to say that we're doing everything we can to protect America at home."
About $1.6 billion of the new biodefense funds are for state and local governments to help medical facilities improve their ability to cope with any bioterror attack, he said.
"I want to make sure each region around the country has the proper equipment and the right amount of medicine for the victims of any attack should it occur," he said.
The added funds also include $2.4 billion to develop new test protocols and new treatments for bioterror weapons, the president said. He noted that the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Mellon Institute have launched the BioMedical Security Institute to help protect the nation from "the insidious biological attack."
"We were able to save lives during the anthrax outbreak," Bush said, "but some infections were identified too late and some people were too badly infected to save." He said the nation needs better testing, better vaccines and better drugs.
White House officials said that if the budget's approved, the Defense Department would receive $600 million to speed up development of better detection, identification, collection and monitoring technology. Scientists working under the military's auspices would also help improve U.S. authorities' understanding of how potential bioterrorism pathogens may be weaponized, transported and disseminated.
Money spent to protect Americans today is likely to yield long-term benefits, Bush said. "Scientists tell us that research to fight bioterrorism is likely to deliver great new advances in the treatment of many other diseases, such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, malaria and HIV-AIDS," he said.
Overall, White House officials said, the increase in biodefense funds would help the nation develop an "early warning system" to help protect citizens against a possible bioterrorist attack and help law enforcement and medical authorities manage the consequences should one occur.
Currently, a large-scale attack would overwhelm existing state, local and private health care capabilities, they said. Information systems linking emergency rooms and public health officials are inadequate and little has been done to promote regional mutual aid compacts among health care institutions, they remarked.
The new funds would be used to strengthen state and local health systems, including medical communications and disease surveillance capabilities. The money would also help build up the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile.
"By the end of the current fiscal year," Bush said, "we'll have enough antibiotics on hand to treat up to 20 million people for anthrax, plague and other bioterrorist diseases."
Biodefense is one part of the president's homeland defense strategy. The 2003 budget request also includes $10.6 billion to secure U.S. borders and more than double the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents on the northern border, $4.8 billion to toughen aviation security and $3.5 billion to equip and train firefighters, law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.