October 17, 2019

“Current Efforts to Develop Biodetection Technology Going in Wrong Direction,” Dr. Asha M. George to Congress


Contact:  Steve Aaron, SRA Communications, (717) 554-8614,



Congress Continues to Evaluate Readiness of U.S. Government to Detect and Respond to Biological Threats


WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 17, 2019) – Dr. Asha M. George, Executive Director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, participated as an expert witness before the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security. Chaired by Representative Donald Payne, the hearing was entitled, “Defending the Homeland from Bioterrorism: Are We Prepared?”

Dr. George testified that the Commission remains greatly concerned about intentionally introduced biological threats. “Four years after the release of our initial report, the Nation remains unprepared for bioterrorism and biological warfare with catastrophic consequences,” said Dr. George. “Worse, current efforts to develop needed technology to detect the biological threat are insufficient and going in the wrong direction.”

Dr. George noted that the federal government has spent millions to develop, improve, and deploy technology in hopes of rapidly detecting biological attacks. Effective environmental surveillance should assist with pathogen identification and provide early warning. “Unfortunately, as this Committee is well aware, the equipment designed to detect airborne biological contaminants do not perform well and have not progressed significantly since their initial deployments.”

The United States launched the BioWatch biodetection program in 2003, but its potential remains unrealized. Late last year, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new initiative to replace BioWatch. However, this effort has already seen its share of problems, Dr. George testified. “The Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense supports efforts to develop, deploy, and maintain effective biodetection technology. We support efforts to replace poor and nonfunctioning BioWatch technology. We support congressional efforts to ensure that the $80 million in taxpayer funds spent annually on BioWatch is used wisely going forward.”

About the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense

The Bipartisan Commission 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 Commission’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. Subsequent Commission publications have addressed critical needs for agrosecurity, biodefense budgeting, and State, Local, Tribal and Territorial support. In September 2018, the White House released the National Biodefense Strategy, a top recommendation from the Blueprint. The Commission continues to assess biodefense challenges and to urge reform. Former Senator Joe Lieberman and former Governor Tom Ridge co-chair the Commission, and are joined by former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former Representative Jim Greenwood, former Homeland Security Advisor Ken Wainstein, and former Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor Lisa Monaco. Hudson Institute is the Commission’s fiscal sponsor.