Lieberman Cites Lack of Bioterror Preparedness

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-CT, said Friday the Administration is not working hard enough to ensure the public health in the event of a bioterrorism attack. In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Lieberman said that HHS “has failed to meet the letter or the spirit” of key parts of the bioterrorism law Congress passed in 2002. In addition, the Administration has cut critical bioterrorism preparedness programs, as if “the threat was diminishing.”

“Although some progress has been made and several billion dollars have been spent since 2001 to improve our capacity to respond to a potentially catastrophic bioterror assault, there is still a significant gap between where we are and where we need to be,” Lieberman said. “The bottom line is we are not now as prepared as we need to be to prevent or respond to a bioterrorist attack. Lieberman said HHS has not developed the comprehensive preparedness plan required by the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. “The nation’s biodefense responsibilities rest on a extensive system of federal, state, and local public health agencies and health care providers,” Lieberman said. “These first responders – public health officials, laboratory technicians, epidemiologists, doctors, nurses, and technicians who make up our public health and health care delivery systems – must be brought fully into the circle of authority and responsibility and provided enough resources to do their jobs for us. Despite the recommendations of a wide range of organizations – from the Gilmore Commission to the General Accounting Office – calling for increased funding for public health preparedness, the Administration cuts funding to these programs in its FY2005 budget. For example, over $100 million is being cut from Centers for Disease Control grants to state and local health departments; $39 million is being cut from HHS grants to states to provide hospital surge capacity; and over $5.5 million is being cut from public health workforce training. A study by the Trust for America’s Health issued last December concluded that despite the new Federal funds, states were only marginally more prepared to respond to a bioterrorism attack than they were before September 11th. Another analysis, prepared after 9/11 by the American Hospital Association, showed that we would need roughly $11.3 billion to prepare U.S. hospitals to respond to a bioterrorism attack. At current funding rates, it will take 20 years to meet this goal. Following is the link to the letter: