NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

GAO Report: Unprepared for Bioterrorism

October 2, 2001

The federal government's plan for responding to bioterrorism is "a collection of poorly coordinated, often underfunded, projects" that span 11 separate Cabinet-level agencies, according to the first comprehensive report on the subject since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The study by the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, warns that state and local health departments appear equally unprepared to deal with a biological assault, although they are likely to be the first to respond. Many of the federal bioterrorism programs are still in their infancy, with little more than start-up money, says the draft report.

  • For example, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta formally began a bioterrorism program in 1999, although the agency did not receive its first infusion of cash -- $9.2 million -- until this fiscal year.
  • All told, the CDC budget includes $148 million for bioterrorism, though much of that money is spent on developing vaccines or purchasing medications for national stockpiles.
  • As of January 2001, not one of the National Guard's civil support teams designed to deploy within four hours of an attack, "had received necessary certification, and none were in use."
  • The Pentagon received $93 million for the teams, which have a broader mandate of responding to attacks by all types of weapons of mass destruction.

In this year's budget, the Bush administration has allocated $343 million to deal with a biological attack, $113 million of which is for the Pentagon to protect soldiers in the field. The rest, which amounts to less than $1 per U.S. civilian, goes to projects as diverse as environmental assessments, pharmaceutical stockpiles and computer upgrades.

Source: Ceci Connolly, "GAO Report Says Federal Government Is Unprepared For Bioterrorism," Washington Post, September 28, 2001; based on " Bioterrorism: Federal Research and Preparedness Activities," GAO-01-915, September 28, 2001.

For GAO report


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