Chairman, Ranking Member Probe DOD For Answers on Anthrax Accident

WASHINGTON – Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) today called on the Department of Defense to provide answers to the reportedly recent accidental shipment of samples of live anthrax to several domestic and overseas laboratories, some of which are military installations and others that are commercial facilities. This incident impacted laboratories located in Wisconsin and Delaware among other states.  The senators made these comments about the recent events:

Chairman Johnson said, “There is no doubt our nation needs to be doing legitimate research into the threat and mitigation of anthrax, but the reports of these accidental shipments of live anthrax are more than troubling.  This incident has endangered lives, and the investigation and decontamination efforts will likely stretch on for months.  Too many incidents have occurred with serious biological agents across federal labs.  I will work with Senator Tom Carper to ensure that the proper policies are in place and followed, improvements are made where needed, and any responsible parties are held accountable for this threat to the public.”

Ranking Member Carper said, “We know all too well that the potential impact of biological threats on our communities can be severe – or even deadly. That’s why it is critical that we understand how this troubling incident at the Department of Defense occurred and determine what steps will be taken to ensure a similar incident does not happen again. It’s equally important that the Department reexamine and reevaluate the protocols in place to ensure that deadly biological agents are properly handled, and that those protocols are vigilantly met. I look forward to hearing from the Department in response to our letter, and will continue to work with Chairman Johnson, our colleagues in Congress, and the Department to address this critical issue.”

Full letter can be found below and available online here.


Dear Secretary Carter:

We were troubled to learn from reports in the media that employees at the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Dugway Proving Ground have reportedly shipped samples of live Bacillus anthracis (B. anthracis) accidentally to several domestic and overseas laboratories, some of which are military installations and others that are commercial facilities. This incident, which impacted laboratories located in Wisconsin and Delaware among other states, may have threatened countless human lives and caused millions of dollars in damage related to follow-up testing and decontamination.   

An extraordinary number of policies and protocols are in place across the federal government to ensure that biological select agents and toxins are properly handled, shipped, and destroyed.  As you know, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have primary oversight of select agents outside of the Department of Defense’s possession.  Your Department has its own governance structure over research and testing of these agents.  A potential breach of these protocols is of great concern, and we urge your Department to fully cooperate in the investigation of this incident to ensure that a similar one never occurs again.   

As the chief oversight committee for the U.S. Senate, we respectfully request that you assist the Committee by providing an interim update that addresses the following questions and provides the following information by June 15, 2015: 

  1. Why did the Department send out any B. anthracis, whether inactive or live, at all?  If sent for research purposes, provide a description of the research that necessitated the Department to ship B. anthracis to domestic and overseas labs.
  2. A detailed summary of the activities and timeline of the federal government’s involvement in investigating the accidental mailings of B. anthracis from Dugway Proving Ground, including:
    1. A list of each of the laboratories where live B. anthracis samples were sent;
    2. The date of each accidental mailing, and when and how the mistaken shipping of the live agent was discovered;
    3. The procedure used to notify responsible senior officials;
    4. A list of all federal agencies involved in the investigation, and a description of how and when each federal agency was notified of the incidents; and,
    5. A description of the investigation’s governance structure for each of the agencies, and any supporting policy documents governing each agency for investigations; also provide the policy and procedures for follow-up for the investigation’s findings by the oversight and governance bodies involved.
  3. To what extent were the transfers of B. anthracis reviewed by the CDC or the U.S. Department of Agriculture prior to their execution?  If such reviews were conducted, include copies of all USDA/CDC Form 2s and other relevant documents completed to authorize the shipments to each of the non-DOD laboratories.  
  4. When and how were each of the samples accounted for and handled after the discovery that live B. anthracis had been shipped?
  5. What steps has the Department taken, or intends to take, to find out who is responsible for the mistaken shipping and hold them accountable as appropriate?
  6. How have DOD and the CDC delineated responsibilities, if any, for soil, air, and other testing for B. anthracis contamination resulting from the accidental mailings?
  7. A description of any emergency response plan the Department had prepared for an accidental mailing of a live biological agent.
  8. A list of all exercises and drills of emergency plans that have been completed in the last five years at Dugway Proving Ground regarding biological agents or toxins.  Specify whether external support agencies, including the CDC and/or USDA, were involved in the exercises, and provide a copy of the after action report for each exercise.   
  9. A copy of any of the Department’s policies governing the shipping, transfer, and receipt of biological select agents and toxins.
  10. A description of how the Department handles breaches in protocol and mishaps regarding the handling, shipping, transfer, testing, release, destruction, or other action of select agents in possession of the Department.  Provide a list of all incidents and associated corrective action plans in the last five years.
  11. A description of the Department’s policies, procedures, or protocols for shipping active and inactive samples of B. anthracis.  
  12. Did the Department notify any Members of Congress or Congressional committees of the incident?  If so, indicate which Members/committees and the date of each notification.

The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is authorized by Rule XXV of the Standing Rules of the Senate to investigate “the efficiency, economy, and effectiveness of all agencies and departments of the Government.” [1]   Additionally, S. Res. 73 (114th Congress) authorizes the Committee to examine “the efficiency and economy of operations of all branches and functions of Government with particular references to (i) the effectiveness of present national security methods, staffing, and processes . . . .”

Thank you for your attention to this issue.  As your preliminary inquiry continues, we ask that you keep us apprised of any progress or issues that may not be addressed in this letter.  Once the investigation is completed, we ask that you provide us a copy of any final report and any action plans produced as a result of the investigation into the exposure at the facility.

Sincerely yours,

­Ron Johnson, Chairman               Thomas R. Carper, Ranking Member

[1] S. Rule XXV(k); see also S. Res. 445, 108th Cong. (2004).