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Senators Oppose Looming Bioshield Funding Cuts
Three U.S. senators this week led the charge against a move to cut as much as $2 billion from the coffers of a program intended to promote development of countermeasures to biological agents and other WMD materials (see GSN, July 13).
Legislation passed July 1 in the House of Representatives would reallocate money from the Project Bioshield Special Reserve Fund or separate pandemic flu preparedness funding to pay for education assistance to states. The Obama administration has not indicated it would oppose the transfer.
The Project Bioshield program was established six years ago to distribute $5.6 billion over a decade for purchases of medicines to protect U.S. citizens from the effects of a WMD attack. The hope was that a designated funding source would enhance the willingness of drug makers to develop and manufacture such products.
To date Project Bioshield has reportedly bought about $2 billion worth of countermeasures for the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile. It has also already been stripped of hundreds of millions of dollars and has experienced some high-profile failures, including the cancellation of a contract for a new anthrax vaccine (see GSN, Dec. 20, 2006).
“The catastrophic events of Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks that followed demonstrated that our government was ill prepared to deal with the kinds of terrorist attacks we may well face in the future," Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said in a prepared statement. "Furthermore, the casualty potential of a biological attack is far greater than any terrorist attack we have seen to date. Yet, we still have no modern vaccine for anthrax and no countermeasures for dozens of other potential bioterror pathogens."
He added: "The Bioshield program was meant to address these serious security shortcomings and provides assurance that the government is developing and procuring the capabilities it needs to respond effectively to a bio attack. Robbing the program of its funding would be a frightfully shortsighted [action] and would jeopardize the security of the American people against a very real and potent threat.”
Senators Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) joined Lieberman in opposition to the funding redirection.
"The Project Bioshield rescission included in the House amendment, or any similar future rescission, would devastate the Bioshield program by cutting a majority of the program’s remaining funding, which is intended for the procurement of new vaccines and countermeasures," Gregg, who wrote the law that established the program, stated in the release. "It is critically important that we make sure that these potentially lifesaving funds are used for their intended purposes and not used as a convenient political offset for more new spending.”
The three senators, along with 13 of their colleagues from both parties, submitted a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) calling for the chamber to reject the House action (U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee release, July 22).
The White House yesterday continued to question the value of Project Bioshield, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Obama administration is preparing a method to better promote private production of vaccines and other countermeasures, according to White House spokesman Nick Shapiro.
"Bioshield has demonstrated limited success in providing incentives for private-sector developers and has not provided a robust pipeline of medical countermeasures," Shapiro said by e-mail (Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times, July 22).