The report, A National Blueprint forBiodefense: Leadership and Major Reform Needed to Optimize Efforts, detailed America’s vulnerability to bioterrorism and deadly outbreaks, and emphasized the need to transform the way our government is organized to confront these threats.
Lieberman and Ridge recently exclusively wrote in Homeland Security Today the report, The Burden of Emerging Infections Calls for an Emergence of Leadership.
Biodefense recommendations include centralizing leadership in the Office of the Vice President; establishing a White House Biodefense Coordination Council; strengthening state, local, territorial and tribal capabilities; and promoting innovation through sustained biodefense prioritization and funding.
“The US government has worked to address myriad security challenges since September 11, 2001,” said Lieberman stated. “Unfortunately, biological threats are not given the same level of attention as are other threats, leaving us significantly underprepared – but this does not have to be the case. Dramatic improvements are within our reach if we follow a national blueprint for biodefense, demand strong leadership, and build on the good work already underway.”
“The US is vulnerable to biological threats because we lack strong centralized leadership at the highest level of government,” Ridge said. “We need one person – a leader with the charge, authority, vision, and expertise – to pull together more than a dozen departments and agencies, as well as the private sector, to defend against biological threats to the nation. Biodefense touches many aspects of society and as such, requires a complex enterprise approach, something we currently lack.”
The report included a mock scenario whereby a biological attack by terrorists on Independence Day, 2016, results in the deaths of more than 6,000 Americans. The scenario sets out the method of attack, the virus used and details the failures to respond to the emergency adequately. The main body of the report – and its recommendations for avoiding such a situation – follows.
The comprehensive report included specific and pragmatic legislative, programmatic and policy actions in the form of 33 urgent recommendations and close to 100 action items.
The panel scrutinized the status of prevention, deterrence, preparedness, detection, response, attribution, recovery and mitigation – the spectrum of activities deemed necessary for biodefense by both Republican and Democratic administrations and many policy experts. They identified substantial achievements, but also found serious gaps that continue to leave the homeland vulnerable to biological threats.
One of the main areas addressed by the panel is the need for leadership and coordination in biodefense. This could be addressed in part by institutionalizing biodefense in the Office of the Vice President and establishing a Biodefense Coordination Council at the White House, as well as developing and implementing a comprehensive national biodefense strategy.
The panel also concluded that the nation needs to unify biodefense budgeting, determine a clear congressional agenda for biodefense and improve management of the biological intelligence enterprise. They also emphasized the need for a one health approach, aligning and prioritizing medical countermeasures, improving biological attribution capabilities and establishing an environment decontamination and remediation capacity.
Many of the actions detail the need to elevate collaboration,including optimizing and implementing national biosurveillance, supporting emergency preparedness, improving information sharing between federal and local governments and fully funding the Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreement.
Additionally, the panel suggested creating incentives for hospital preparedness and implementing a Medical Countermeasure Response Framework. The panel also made recommendations to secure pathogens against cyber attacks, reengage with the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and increase military-civilian collaboration for biodefense.
The panel recommended prioritizing innovation over incrementalism in medical countermeasure development, and fully funding medical countermeasure efforts. The panel also called for reinstating Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) contracting authorities, provide an advance appropriation to authorized levels for the BioShield Special Reserve Fund and better incentivize development of countermeasures.
The report strongly encouraged renewed focus on the need for rapid diagnostics and prioritization of the development of a fully functional environmental detection system to replace BioWatch. The panel also recommended a review and overhaul of the Select Agent Program and urged the US to lead the way toward establishing a functional and agile global public health response apparatus.
The report will further be discussed at today’s panel event in Washington, DC.