« Home | 1918 Flu Epidemic Teaching Valuable Lessons - Acti... » | Rogers' biodefense bill clears Congress » | PRESS RELEASE: NEW LAWSUIT FILED CHALLENGING LEGAL... » | Defense Employees Set For Another Suit to Halt Man... » | Trust but verify » | Law Passes Retooling Effort on Bioterror » | Top Air Force Lawyer Had Been Disbarred » | Congress approves bioterrorism preparedness bill » | Senate Passes Vaccine Incentive Bill, But Full Con... » | DOR Gets Okay on Key Ricin Toxin Vaccine Patent »

Bill creating HHS bioterror research agency on Bush's desk

By Jonathan Marinom, jmarino@govexec.com

Lawmakers approved legislation early Saturday morning creating a Health and Human Services agency aimed at the prevention of bioterrorism, in a move that continues to delegate to HHS more responsibility in preparing for and responding to a potential biological attack.

The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (S. 3678), which now awaits President Bush's signature, would authorize more than $5 billion for biomedical research projects and would allow funds for vaccine research and development. The measure would clarify that the HHS secretary would assume the lead role in the event of a bioterrorist attack or disease outbreak, and essentially would relegate the Homeland Security Department to a supporting role.

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said the legislation "supports our efforts to improve coordination of preparedness and response programs across the department."

The new agency within HHS would be called the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The bill authorizes $1 billion for the agency.

Previous efforts to create such an organization were hampered by disagreements over whether it would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and other open meeting laws. Most of the provisions that aimed to circumvent such laws were eliminated from the bill approved over the weekend, with the exception of one that allows Leavitt discretion over information that might expose significant public health weaknesses.

The legislation also would make Leavitt responsible for creating a plan within six months to address how the new agency will be integrated into existing biodefense and research and development efforts. HHS spokesman Bill Hall said development of that strategy "would involve other relevant departments" in the planning phase, but reiterated that the new agency is "in-house."

Hall also noted that the National Disaster Medical System, formerly under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, already has been returned to HHS, which ran the system prior to DHS' creation, under a provision in the fiscal 2007 Homeland Security Department spending bill. The disaster medical system is responsible for supporting federal medical response to major emergencies and disasters.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., author of the Senate version of the bill, hailed its passage as the answer to "the need for an even stronger public health and medical infrastructure equipped to respond to emergencies of all kinds, be they deliberate, accidental or natural."

The bill reauthorizes the 2002 Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act, which was passed as a response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

A White House spokeswoman said that as of Wednesday afternoon, President Bush had not signed it.