Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Obama Budget Would Shift Funds From Bioshield
The White House's fiscal 2013 budget proposal would shift hundreds of millions of dollars from a federal program to promote development of medical countermeasures against WMD threats to the initiative's parent agency, Nature reported on Wednesday (see GSN, Dec. 15, 2011).
Project Bioshield was established in 2004 as a $5.6 billion war chest for the purchase of medical treatments for the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile. The Obama administration would shift $415 million from the fund to the Health and Human Services Department's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The authority manages Project Bioshield as part of its broader mandate to support development of medical countermeasures for use against weapons of mass destruction.
This would not be the first time Project Bioshield's billions of dollars have been eyed by as a resource for plugging budget gaps. House appropriators in 2010 attempted to shift $2 billion from the fund's coffers to pay for unrelated government projects. The Senate later restored the money (see GSN, July 23, 2010).
The HHS biodefense agency would receive $547 million in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, with $415 million coming through a "supplement" from the Bioshield Special Reserve Fund.
The Food and Drug Administration's budget for biodefense activities would remain roughly equal to fiscal 2012 at $346 million, with an additional $18 million allocated to start construction of a new research complex in White Oak, Md. The National Institutes of Health would see no change in its biodefense budget, which is $1.3 billion in the current fiscal year.
"It's good news that there is more money for BARDA, and no significant cuts to basic science at NIH or to regulatory science at FDA," WMD Center founder Randall Larsen said.
Larsen and other U.S. biodefense experts in the past have criticized the government for providing insufficient financial support for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and argued that potential countermeasures have become hung up at the Food and Drug Administration.
However, Larsen questioned the decision to use a significant amount of money from Project Bioshield to form the BARDA budget for fiscal 2013. He acknowledged the argument that since "there's nothing in the queue right now to be purchased" it could make sense to devote more funds to ushering experimental countermeasures through the development and approval process.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the budget proposal would see funding trimmed for programs that support local and state public health crisis readiness, while the Strategic National Stockpile would see its budget reduced from $533 million in the current budget to $486 million in fiscal 2013.
The Defense Department's medical biodefense budget would be slashed by $257 million to nearly $348 million. The Defense Department's Transformational Medical Technologies Initiative has come under criticism as wasteful (see GSN, Jan. 18, 2011).
One-time Walter Reed Army Institute of Research chief Philip Russell strongly criticized the proposed budget cuts to Pentagon biodefense efforts: "Taking money out of the military research budget and leaving NIH funded at $1.3 billion even though it hasn't produced a single countermeasure is pretty tragic."
The Homeland Security Department's biological surveillance initiative -- Biowatch -- would see its budget increased by $11 million to a total of $125 million in the next fiscal cycle
The administration is not seeking any fiscal 2013 dollars to build the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which has been planned near Manhattan, Kan. (see GSN, Feb. 13; Erika Check Hayden, Nature, Feb. 15).
The absence of funding for the new facility is due largely to the federal government's failure to find a buyer for Plum Island in New York, where an outdated animal disease research laboratory is located, Science reported. Funds from the sale would have been used to build the new disease research site, which was intended to replace the Plum Island facility.
The Homeland Security Department intends to work with the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments to determine whether the government needs the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility or a similar high-security site to study potential bioterror threats and other diseases that could infect animals and humans, said Homeland Security Undersecretary Tara O'Toole. Should the answer be affirmative, Homeland Security could press for money in the fiscal 2014 budget, she added.
Congressional appropriators could also revive the Kansas biodefense laboratory, which has substantial public support from politicians from the state.
"A needless effort to reassess the importance of protecting our nation's food supply is a waste of taxpayer dollars. This change in direction is unacceptable and will leave our country vulnerable," Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and U.S. lawmakers from the state said in a combined statement (Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Science, Feb. 14).
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