CQ HOMELAND SECURITY
Sept. 8, 2009 – 8:32 p.m.
Senators Unveil Bioterror Bill
By Daniel Fowler, CQ Staff
The leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee introduced legislation Tuesday to reduce the risk of attack by terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction, especially biological weapons.
“The fact is that we are still not properly prepared to meet this . . . bioterrorist threat, despite measures that have been taken since the 2001 anthrax attacks,” said panel Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn. “And that is what brings us to the legislation that we introduced today.”
The bill (S 1649) would provide a framework for protecting the public from a WMD attack and focuses on preventing biological attacks in particular, Lieberman said. He and the committee’s ranking Republican, Susan Collins, of Maine, unveiled the legislation at a press conference Tuesday with former Sens. Bob Graham, D-Fla., (1987-2005) and James M. Talent, R-Mo., (2002-2007; House 1993-2001), who led the congressionally mandated Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.
The legislation would implement a number of recommendations the commission made in its December report, “World at Risk,” which critiqued U.S. nonproliferation and counterterrorism policy at home and abroad. In the report, the commission predicted that terrorists would conduct an attack, most likely with biological weapons, somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.
Graham said the legislation was a critical step in prevention efforts.
“We are losing ground in terms of our protection against a weapon of mass destruction being used in the United States and in the world,” Graham said.
The report also made several recommendations to reduce the risk of bioterrorism, including reviewing efforts to secure dangerous pathogens, tightening government oversight of high-containment laboratories that study the germs, and improving the nation’s ability to respond rapidly to biological attacks and prevent mass casualties.
The bill would step up U.S. efforts in these areas with provisions to:
• Designate pathogens at high risk of use by terrorists and include them on a list maintained by federal agencies for special regulation.
• Require the Homeland Security secretary to create standards for labs that handle such pathogens, addressing staff training and reliability, risk assessments, and procedures for sharing information, and to establish penalties for failing to meet those standards.
• Direct the Health and Human Services secretary to require labs with the potential to pose a public health or environmental threat to register in a database established by the secretary. The criteria for registration would include the pathogens that could pose a serious public health of environmental threat but don’t have a clear potential for use by terrorists.
• Provide up to $50 million in grants annually over the next few years to improve security at private or nonprofit research labs that study dangerous pathogens.
• Require the Homeland Security secretary to develop guidelines for the government, private and nonprofit sectors to respond to WMD attacks.
“Our bill is focusing on deterring and preventing an attack from occurring but also on strengthening our preparedness and response should our efforts to prevent an attack fall short,” Collins said.
Daniel Fowler can be reached at email@example.com.
Source: CQ Homeland Security
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