Biosecurity bill called into question

A bill called the Biosecurity and Vaccine Development Improvement Act was introduced last month by Sen. Arlen Specter and Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Casey.

The legislation is intended to “ensure our country has the resources necessary to protect the American people in the event of a disease outbreak or terrorist attack.”

One major implication of the bill, however, is that it keeps money moving to one of recently deceased Rep. Jack Murtha's pet recipients of taxpayer dollars.

“This legislation would provide funding for a public/private partnership vaccine developing and manufacturing facility.” Specter says in his remarks that introduce the bill.

Critics who have followed the trail of money from the government say that Specter's introduction may denote a new effort to steer taxpayer money to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Specter held a hearing in Pittsburgh last year on UPMC and its qualifications as a candidate for a facility of the sort the legislation envisions and is open in his support for UPMC.

Advocates for Specter and UPMC say his support comes as no surprise because of UPMC's reputation as a health care provider and employer and because of Specter's history of championing funding for members of the health care and life sciences industry.

Critics of Specter, however, call his support for UPMC, an entity with extensive ties to Murtha, and Pharmathene, the company that reportedly operates UPMC. Murtha also was known for a history of backing projects that carried major ethical and value-for-money questions, including UPMC.

Murtha, an August 2009 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article said, “consulted with UPMC on the need to increase vaccine capacity in the United States," holding hearings on the topic as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

According to a Harper's article from last year, Murtha procured an $8.5 million earmark for UPMC. The article also reported that Pharmathene had benefited from Murtha earmarking.

Pharmathene also benefited from a sole-source vaccine contract this year with help from Tara O'Toole, the Under Secretary for the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security. O'Toole is reported to have ties to Murtha's so-called favor factory and is a one-time head of UMPC's Center for Biosecurity. She also previously advised the Alliance for Biosecurity, which Pharmathene plays a major role in.

Specter announced $1.65 million for UPMC's Military Force Protection and Injury Prevention Program in July 2004 and $503,000 for UPMC's Horizon center in December 2003. According to his web site, Specter secured another $1.63 million for UPMC's St. Margaret's Hospital's Emergency Department and Bioterrorism Decontamination Center in the Fiscal Year 2003 Appropriations Bill and another $17.5 million for UPMC was announced in September 2003.

Specter has collected more than $80,000 in contributions from UPMC personnel, reports, and Murtha has been the beneficiary of more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from UPMC personnel during his career.