BioWatch funding in jeopardy

Funding for BioWatch, the U.S. early warning system to detect deadly pathogens in major cities, may be in peril because of increased costs.

Cost estimates for BioWatch have reached $5.7 billion, six times the initial assessment. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to open bidding before the next phase of the program begins in October, according to the Washington Post.

The five year contract is valued at as much as $3.1 billion and would provide for upgrades to the system that allow collected data to be automatically transmitted to laboratories, which would eliminate the manual handling of specimens.

BioWatch has been plagued by delays and cost overruns since President George W. Bush began the program in 2003.

Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida), chairman of the House subcommittee that holds jurisdiction over the program, said he wants assurances that costs are now under control. He has asked the Government Accountability Office to analyze the proposed spending.

"The program could find itself in danger of being cut back or completely scrapped if law­makers determine that it's becoming a major and costly acquisition failure,'' Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a partner with Monument Policy Group, a Washington-based consulting firm, and staff director for the House Homeland Security Committee from 2005 through 2008, said, the Washington Post reports.