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Lawmakers Doubt U.S. Agency's Assurances After Anthrax Scare

Emergency response crews in Washington assess materials in 2006 for the presence of anthrax bacteria. Lawmakers have voiced skepticism over a U.S. health agency's promise to remedy problems behind an anthrax incident and other recent safety lapses. Emergency response crews in Washington assess materials in 2006 for the presence of anthrax bacteria. Lawmakers have voiced skepticism over a U.S. health agency's promise to remedy problems behind an anthrax incident and other recent safety lapses. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Legislators aired doubts over a U.S. health agency's pledge to remedy problems tied to its management of disease agents, Reuters reports.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is weighing the creation of an autonomous auditor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the news agency reported on Thursday. The medical agency came under congressional scrutiny after a June safety breach initially spurred fears that dozens of workers could have been exposed to anthrax at its Atlanta headquarters. The incident preceded the discovery of numerous additional violations of rules for handling infectious pathogens.

The Energy and Commerce Committee reportedly is also considering the establishment of new, nationwide laboratory guidelines that one federal entity would be responsible for overseeing.

CDC Director Thomas Frieden last week said the center was moving on its own in reaction to the internal incidents. Its response, he said, included designating an official to oversee issues concerning laboratory safety, as well as planning the creation of an independent advisory board.

Frieden promised similar actions in a two-year-old letter released on Thursday by House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

"Why should we believe this time that things will be different?” Upton asked at a Wednesday hearing.

In the September 2012 communication, Frieden said the center had "designated a senior official who will report directly to the CDC director regarding concerns or complaints related to safety at CDC's laboratories." The agency was also inviting input from independent security analysts, he said at the time.

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