HR 5498 seeks to increase U.S. ability to fight bioterror

Introduced last week as a “comprehensive approach to improving America’s biodefense capabilities" by Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), HR 5498 - the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2010 - seeks to embolden the United States against future bioterror attacks.

"This legislation will enhance America’s capabilities to protect American lives from such a WMD attack," King said.

A house panel was told last week by experts on biological agents that efforts made by the government to allow information sharing and interagency collaboration as a means of addressing bioterrorism has failed to date. HR 5498 aims to reverse that trend by, in part, requiring the director of national intelligence to produce and administer a National Intelligence Strategy for Countering the Threat from WMD, which would be created in consultation with the homeland security secretary as well as other relevant agencies.

HR 5498 would build upon 2007's National Intelligence Strategy for Countering Biological Threats while expanding nationally knowledge on biological agents.

"This bill addresses the full-range of homeland security considerations associated with the WMD threat – it not only authorizes programs to enhance our nation’s prevention, deterrence, and preparedness capabilities but also bolsters our diction, attribution, response and recovery capabilities," Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said.

Biosecurity and biodefense stakeholders would see their relevant intelligence and information sharing techniques integrated nationally by the Department of Homeland Security under the legislation.

Additionally, DHS would be called on to coordinate with other federal agencies to create biennial bioterrorism risk assessments.

Participation in the National Biosurveillance Integration Center, which currently only carries voluntary interagency participation, would become mandatory under the bill, bringing together disparate agencies from the medical, public health and environmental fields, among many others. This participation would ensure that data on biothreats would be made available to not only federal but also local agencies.

The bill, the house panel was told, would integrate many varied agencies' expertise in fighting WMDs, making these agencies, such as the Defense Department, equal partners in dealing with potential threats.

These changes would increase situational awareness, the panel was told, but the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must work to examine and promote standards for the biological response community.

"The bill addresses every stage of the threat – from pre-event prevention and deterrence through to post-event recovery, and will strengthen our capabilities to address biological attacks," Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology, said.