FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Steve Aaron, SRA Communications, (717) 554-8614, steve@SRACommunications.com
BLUE RIBBON STUDY PANEL ON BIODEFENSE STATEMENT ON PROPOSED CLOSURE OF BIODEFENSE LABORATORY
WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 10, 2017) – Senator Joseph Lieberman and Governor Tom Ridge, the co-chairs of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, today raised strong concerns about the President’s FY 2018 budget request that would eliminate critical biodefense functions of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) without providing a rational nor offering plans to transition these functions to other departments or agencies. Specifically, Sen. Lieberman and Gov. Ridge are particularly troubled by the proposed closure of the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) in Maryland.
“The request would eliminate funding for the NBACC laboratory, resulting in the closure of the facility,” said Sen. Lieberman. “This lab was developed during the George W. Bush Administration and has been operational only since 2010. NBACC’s threat characterization component, the National Biological Threat Characterization Center (NBTCC), was built to fill knowledge gaps regarding how well our medical countermeasures work against biothreats and therefore how well prepared we are to counteract them. Its work is designed to inform DHS threat assessments and other federal activities. Some of this work is classified.”
Sen. Lieberman noted that the NBACC is also home to the National Bioforensic Analysis Center (NBFAC), a forensics program that the Panel has previously recommended be moved from DHC to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, its primary customer. “Yet no such move is proposed within the Department of Justice’s budget request,” said Sen. Lieberman. “NBACC is the only facility in the United States with the bioforensics capability needed to assist the Bureau in its investigations. Terminating funding for the NBFAC without transitioning its resources elsewhere would leave the country without core investigative tool for biocrimes and bioterrorism.”
Gov. Ridge added that the lab has been expensive to build and to run, and its large amount of space not always well utilized. “The DHS Science and Technology Directorate must better communicate to Members of Congress and their staff how the lab is improving biological preparedness and response, and why the costs for this are justified,” said Gov. Ridge. “The Panel is troubled that the President’s own budget states that the lab’s work supports intelligence assessments, preparedness planning, emerging threat characterization, and bioforensic analyses, and that its closure may impact DHS’ ability to characterize high-consequence pathogens before and during a biological event. The budget also states that NBACC research could be replicated at other facilities – however, it provides no plan via other departmental requests to transfer these responsibilities. Congress should consider taking up such matters in its authorization and/or appropriations bills this year.”
About the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense
The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense was established in 2014 to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the state of U.S biodefense efforts, and to issue recommendations to foster change. The Panel’s 2015 report, A National Blueprint for Biodefense: Leadership and Major Reform Needed to Optimize Efforts, identified capability gaps and recommended changes to U.S. policy and law to strengthen national biodefense while optimizing resource investments. The panel continues to assess biodefense challenges and to urge reform. Former Senator Joe Lieberman and former Governor Tom Ridge co-chair the Panel, and are joined by former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former Representative Jim Greenwood, and the Honorable Ken Wainstein. Hudson Institute is the Panel’s fiscal sponsor.