The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security this week approved a bill entitled the “WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2012” (HR 2356), which calls for appointment of a Special Assistant to the President for Biodefense (SAPBD) and a range of other measures designed to improve the nation’s biosecurity.
The bipartisan bill has been in the works since 2011, but will come to a House floor vote at a time when recent controversies over publication of avian influenza transmissibility studies have drawn a spotlight on potential weaknesses of the national biodefense oversight framework.
The bill calls for assignment of a member of the National Security Council to serve as the SAPBD. In addition to general coordination of biodefense policy, responsibilities of the position would include spearheading a new National Biodefense Plan, a National Biosurveillance Strategy, and oversight of a comprehensive budget analysis for all biodefense activites.
National Biodefense Plan: Requirements of the plan, to be submitted to the President and Congress within 18 months of enactment of HR 2356, include the following:
-Define the scope and purpose of a national biodefense capability
-Identify biological risks to the Nation
-Delineate prevention, protection, response, and recovery activities to be performed
-Define R&D needs for threat awareness and prevention, protection, response, and recovery
-Identify biodefense assets, interdependencies, and capability and integration gaps
-Provide goals, activities, milestones, and performance measures
-Define organizational responsibilities of Federal, State, local, and tribal authorities
-Provide planning guidance to biosecurity and biodefense stakeholders
National Biosurveillance Strategy: The SAPBD would be required within 1 year after enactment of HR 2356 to submit a National Biosurveillance Strategy and to subsequently publish an implementation plan for such strategy within the following year. The following tasks are required in the report:
-Identify the purpose and scope of a nationally integrated biosurveillance capability
-Establish goals, priorities, and milestones to guide the development of such capability
-Define and prioritize costs, benefits, and resource and investment needs
-Delineate Federal, State, local, tribal, and private roles and responsibilities
-Describe how the strategy is integrated with related national strategies
The strategy would take into account the state of biosurveillance domestically and internationally; material threat assessments developed by DHS; risk assessments and reports on global trends of biological threats produced by the Intelligence Community; and costs associated with establishing and maintaining the necessary infrastructure to integrate biosurveillance systems.
Biodefense Budget Analysis: The bill notably requires the SAPBD to conduct comprehensive cross-cutting biodefense budget analysis that delineates and integrates the biodefense expenditure requests from all relevant departments and agencies. The analysis would be submitted concurrent with the submission of the President’s annual budget to the Congress.
The bill further calls for the SAPBD to oversee development of a National Strategy for Microbial Forensics, and for the establishment a fee-based National Bioforensic Analysis Center.