National biosurveillance strategy requires designated focal point, GAO directors say

GAO | GAO

The White House still has not yet produced a comprehensively coordinated U.S. biosurveillance watchdog strategy, says Christopher P. Currie, director of Homeland Security and Justice for the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

And while strides have been made toward creating an implementation plan that maps out, coordinates and organizes a nationwide surveillance system for biological threats, Currie said more must be accomplished through “additional planning, oversight and coordination.”

These actions “will have two major benefits,” Currie told BioPrepWatch. “They will strengthen the effectiveness of the entire biosurveillance enterprise and they will help us to ensure the most effective use of resources by investing in the activities that have the greatest benefits and that reduce the most amount of risk.”

America’s lacking biosurveillance strategy has been an ongoing issue for several years, according to the GAO.

“Although the White House developed the National Strategy for Biosurveillance in July 2012, this strategy does not include information that identifies resource and investment needs as we previously recommended” in June 2010, said Currie in the recent GAO report he co-wrote on the topic entitled, Biosurveillance: Additional Planning, Oversight, and Coordination Needed to Enhance National Capability.

An implementation plan was slated to be produced within 120 days of this established national strategy, but that hasn’t happened yet, according to the July 9 GAO report written by Currie and Steve D. Morris, GAO’s director of natural resources and environment.

“Biosurveillance is a very large and complex effort that cuts across federal, state and local levels, as well as the private sector,” said Currie, who oversees GAO’s work in emergency management, national preparedness and critical infrastructure protection. “For this and other large crosscutting efforts, coordination is always difficult.”

To address these challenges, Currie told BioPrepWatch that he and Morris have recommended in the report that the U.S. federal government designate one focal point to help coordinate these efforts and develop a national strategy to ensure that these efforts are integrated.

“The federal government has made progress on both of these recommendations, but more work is needed,” he said. “For example, the White House … national biosurviellance strategy … lacks certain details we think are important, such as a discussion of how resources should be prioritized and how to better leverage the resources of non-federal partners.”

And the determination of which biosurveillance activities will have the most benefit and reduce risk “is a complex and ongoing endeavor that should be engaged by subject matter experts within the biosurveillance enterprise,” Currie added.

“It is important that those activities be prioritized from a national or ‘whole of government’ perspective, and not just from the perspective of individual agencies pursuing their unique missions,” he said.

Read the entire GAO report online at: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-664T.