Biosecurity panel's findings heading to Obama

WASHINGTON — The findings of a high-level panel that examined strategies to boost security at laboratories conducting research with dangerous diseases will be submitted to U.S. President Barack Obama soon, officials involved in the effort told the Global Security Newswire on Oct. 6.

The product of the Working Group on Strengthening the Biosecurity of the United States will likely be reviewed by the Defense and Health and Human Services secretaries and sent to the White House "in a few weeks," said Carol Linden, principal deputy director for the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, who served on the panel.

The panel included representatives from the State, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, Energy and Homeland Security departments.

Linden said she did not know the exact number of recommendations the working group made but said that they were grouped into four areas: potential regulations for select agents; vetting of personnel who have access to those materials; transportation; and security of facilities that house dangerous diseases.

Last year the federal government fined Texas A&M University $1 million for not telling authorities that researchers had been exposed to — and in one case, infected by — disease material. Also in 2008, the FBI identified the perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax mailings as a researcher from an Army biodefense site at Fort Detrick, Md.

The National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, recently said there is no "silver bullet" against a would-be bioterrorist finding a job at a disease research facility.

As of February, roughly 400 U.S. research entities were registered and around 15,300 individuals were cleared to have access to select agents, biological agents or toxins such as anthrax, smallpox and the Ebola virus declared to pose a severe threat to human, animal or plant health.