GAO releases report on anthrax detection

The Government Accountability Office released a report on Tuesday concerning the analysis and collection of anthrax samples, following up on a 2005 report which recommended several actions regarding sampling.

The 2001 anthrax attacks demonstrated the inadequate preparedness of the federal government to respond to an intentional release of the bioweapon. In 2005, the GAO determined that the agencies did not use a reliable sample collection method. The report, released on Tuesday, acknowledged that some progress has been made but notes that coordination between the multiple responsible agencies has not been successful.

"Eleven years and $12 million after the first anthrax attack, it is unimaginable that those agencies responsible for detecting the anthrax and protecting the public are still unable to coordinate their efforts and implement GAO's recommendations," Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee chairman, said.

The National Institute of Standards, the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Homeland Security have yet to reach consensus on how to validate the sample collection methods for anthrax.

"We have invested considerable time and resources over the past seven years, and yet the working group has not completed the recommended implementation improvements because they have reached a stalemate on how to move forward," Upton and Stearns said. "The committee does not take this issue lightly and will work together with the relevant agencies in order to reach a resolution. It is critical that we learn from the 2001 attacks to better protect the American people and ensure the taxpayers' investment is being used wisely."

Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said that the U.S. must be vigilant to make sure that another anthrax attack does not occur. Waxman expressed his hope that the agencies will be able to reach an agreement.