BioterrorismBioterrorism experts criticize cuts in BioShield to pay for teacher retention

Published 14 July 2010

In order to find funds which would prevent teacher layoffs, House Democrats craft an appropriations bill which takes $2 billion from a bioterrorism emergency program; security experts criticize what they call a lack of foresight

On its face, it is just another Washington dispute about money, but a move by House Democrats to strip $2 billion from reserve funds for bioterrorism and pandemic flu — without objection from President Obama — has infuriated some of the U.S.’s foremost bioterrorism experts.

They say it is a symbol of how the Obama White House is failing to properly address the threat posed by a potential biological attack, which they say could kill 400,000 Americans and do $2 trillion in economic damage.


The Los Angeles Times’s Ken Dilanian writes that these bioterrorism specialists acknowledge that the probability of such an event is low, but they say the failure to plan for it reflects the same lack of imagination that presaged the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005, and the ongoing gulf oil spill.

I don’t think anybody who understands the urgency of bio-preparedness is happy with where we are right now,” Jeff Runge, who was chief medical officer at DHS from 2005 to 2008, told Dilanian.

The $2-billion reduction in bioterrorism prevention and pandemic funds came in a House appropriations bill that passed 2 July. Appropriations Committee chairman David R. Obey (D-Wisconsin) added $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs, and under budget rules he needed to find cuts elsewhere.

Among other things, he required the secretary of Health and Human Services to cut $2 billion from funds reserved for pandemic flu or bioterrorism drugs. On the block is Project BioShield, a pot of money designed to buy lifesaving drugs and vaccines in the event of a biological attack. The money was set aside as a guarantee to private companies that if they produced the medicines, government funds would be available to buy them.

The proposed cut is “an extremely negative development in our overall efforts to prepare not only for bioterrorism but for other biological events from nature,” said former Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat.

Dilanian notes that Obama named Graham to co-chair panels on the oil spill and the financial crisis. He also co-chaired the bipartisan Commission for the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, which in January gave the federal government a grade of “F” for bioterrorism preparation (“U.S. gets “F” in preparation for threat of biological terrorism,” 29 January 2010 HSNW). There have been few improvements since, he said.

If terrorists attacked a city today using anthrax or some other biological agent, “I think there would