McCaskill amendment to increase security at research labs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill added an amendment to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009 that would prevent labs from doing research on high-risk biological agents if they violate security requirements.

However, the overall bill was tabled until the relevant federal agencies had an opportunity to address concerns about portions of the legislation. The Democrat from Missouri opposed the delay.

McCaskill's amendment, which was unanimously accepted by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Oct. 28, would give authority to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to suspend a lab's ability to conduct research on high-risk agents if there are conditions at the lab that do not meet strict security standards. The amendment would also allow the federal government to suspend federal funding for such labs.

"Our scientists are the best and the brightest in the world, but if their labs do not follow strict security standards, Americans across the board will be at risk," McCaskill said.

"When we give taxpayer dollars to labs that have serious security violations and are doing research on dangerous biological agents, we are creating targets for terrorists and putting the safety of our nation at risk. That cannot be allowed to continue."

McCaskill's amendment strengthens federal agency authority to ensure labs most at risk for a terrorist attack have the necessary measures to secure these dangerous agents. She first raised the idea at a hearing in September, when the U.S. Government Accountability Office testified before the committee that two of the five labs they investigated did not have the necessary security measures to properly secure high-risk agents.