Congress called on to create national biosurveillance capability

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has reported to Congress that the effort to create a national biosurveillance capability needs a coordinated strategy and designated leadership.

A June 2010 report by the Accountability Office states that federal agencies with biosurrveillance responsibilities - the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and Agriculture - have all begun the process of developing their individual capacities. The departments have developed personnel, training, equipment and systems that could, if harnessed appropriately, support the detection and awareness of emerging biological threats, particularly a terrorist attack using biological weapons.

“While national biodefense strategies have been developed to address biological threats such as pandemic influenza, there is neither a comprehensive national strategy nor a focal point with the authority and resources to guide the effort to develop a national biosurveillance capability,” the GAO report states.

The current framework, the report says, does not help to identify and prioritize investments in the area.

The GAO concludes that national leadership and a national strategy are critical because, under the current system, resources are distributed across several federal agencies, making cooperation more difficult and untimely.

A single source for leadership would mean a single organization that has sufficient time, responsibility, control and resources to identify the scope of threats, define costs and investment needs and integrate the work of the various agencies that are currently responsible for developing national biosurveillance. To that end, the GAO recommends the establishment of an interagency council or a biosurveillance director.