Subjects: Public health
Fully 8 years after the anthrax attacks of 2001 showed that bioterrorism can happen in the US, the nation remains woefully unprepared for a large-scale attack, according to a Congressional Commission.
The WMD Commission evaluated the government’s performance in 17 key areas. It nailed the White House and Congress with an “F” for not creating a rapid-response capability to handle disease outbreaks from bioterrorism, or providing adequate oversight of security and intelligence agencies.
As evidence, the Commission cited the government’s stuttering response to the swine flu epidemic. It pointed fingers at several administrations and branches of government.
In other news, the panel handed out “As” to government programs that secured dangerous viruses and bacteria, and to the Obama administration’s reorganization of the National Security Council so that it could handle other threats from weapons of mass destruction.
The Commission’s report cited in particular the White House’s efforts to strengthen international controls on nuclear technology and components.
“Each of the last three administrations has been slow to recognize and respond to the biothreat,” former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.) told the Washington Post. Graham co-chaired the panel with former senator James M. Talent (R-Mo.). “We no longer have the luxury of a slow learning curve when we know al-Qaeda is interested in bioweapons.”
In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama revealed plans to fill many of the gaps that were identified by the Commission. In particular, he wants to improve the performance, scalability and flexibility of drug distribution systems.
According to White House spokesman Nick Shapiro, “the goal is a national capability for the rapid, reliable and affordable production of an array of medical countermeasures against public health threats.”