FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Sheila Menz (Lieberman)
August 3, 2007 202-224-1839
Jen Burita (Collins)
Clinton Press Office, 202-224-2243
WASHINGTON – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., and Senator Hillary Clinton, D-NY, Friday announced that the Government Accountability Office has agreed to investigate how a man believed to be infected with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) was able to slip past government officials and reenter the United States even when health officials knew of his medical condition.
The senators’ request came in a letter sent July 24, 2007, to GAO Comptroller General David Walker, asking the agency to review and assess the coordination and response of the federal government to a May incident in which Andrew Speaker, infected with a rare and difficult to treat form of TB, was permitted to enter the United States from Canada.
The senators said the incident “exposed a disturbing picture of the federal government’s ability to respond to a known public health incident and protect our homeland security.”
“Mr. Speaker’s ability to cross our borders raises questions not only about events that transpired at that inland port but in the federal government’s overall approach to safeguarding our nation from public health threats before they reach our borders.
“We should never again have a situation where delays and failures in communication between the federal government, other domestic public heath officials, and relevant commercial entities lead to needless exposure and risk. We need to assure the American people that our government can respond in a coordinated manner to these types of public health incidents. This incident should serve as a wake-up call that we need to establish and exercise effective plans to deal with the travel of known public health threats.”
The senators called on GAO to review and describe the sequence of events surrounding the incident and establish a timeline, assess what systems and processes were in place to respond to the health threat, and determine the extent to which federal agencies and other key organizations shared important information and followed established protocols.
GAO told the Senate offices that the investigation would begin in the next few months as experts become available.