March 29th, 2006
LINDER INTRODUCES "PROJECT BIOSHIELD MATERIAL THREATS ACT OF 2006" AND "PREVENTION OF NUCLEAR TERRORISM ACT OF 2006"
Yesterday, Homeland Security Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack Chairman John Linder (R-GA) introduced two legislative proposals, H.R. 5028, the "Project BioShield Material Threats Act of 2006," and H.R. 5029, the "Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism Act of 2006." These proposals are designed to address separate, yet critical, components of homeland security.
In 2004, Congress enacted the Project BioShield Act to encourage the development of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) countermeasures. Under Bioshield, the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for conducting Material Threat Assessments (MTAs) and issuing Material Threat Determinations (MTDs) on specific agents presenting "material threats" to the nation. Without these determinations, the Department of Health and Human Services cannot determine what agent to buy for, what type of countermeasure is appropriate (such as a vaccine or a post-exposure treatment) or how many doses of an appropriate countermeasure to buy.
"Regrettably, MTAs can take up to eight months," Linder said. "Because the acquisition process hinges on completion of these threat assessments, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that if we proceed at the same rate and conduct MTAs on all agents on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Category A, B, and C lists sequentially, it will take us years to complete. As we can all agree, we have neither the time nor the money to continue the process in this fashion."
The "Project BioShield Material Threats Act of 2006" would expedite this process by directing DHS to utilize existing risk assessments when conducting MTAs and MTDs. In addition, this bill requires DHS to use an approach to this process that groups agents according either to agent's properties or to the agent's adverse health consequences. This will allow HHS to fully consider broad-spectrum medical countermeasures and make for a more efficient, cost-effective acquisition strategy.
"Risk assessments consider threat, vulnerability, and consequences, indicating which agents are high risk, which are low risk, and which fall somewhere in between," Linder continued. "In addition, we must group agents in a manner that prioritizes the development of broad-spectrum countermeasures, where appropriate, to more effectively utilize the Federal government's resources for CBRN defense. By enacting H.R. 5028, Congress will recognize that goal."
The "Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism Act of 2006," conversely, focuses on the authorization of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) within DHS. Currently, DNDO is tasked with developing a global nuclear detection "architecture" system to prevent acts of nuclear and radiological terrorism against the United States. This end is achieved primarily through the development and deployment of advanced nuclear and radiological detection systems both here and abroad.
"This Subcommittee has worked since the beginning of last year to establish DNDO within DHS," Linder said. "Through its coordination of the Departments of Defense, Energy, Justice, and State, as well as the intelligence community, DNDO has the important job of taking competing Federal interests and working toward a common goal to ensure that a nuclear incident in the United States remains a worst case scenario' rather than a reality."
The DNDO has already received funding support from the Congress through the FY2006 appropriations process, and is recognized by the President in his FY2007 budget proposal. It, however, was not included when Congress created DHS in the 2002 Homeland Security Act. H.R. 5029 addresses this discrepancy by ensuring that DNDO is codified into law.
"I am pleased with the hard work done by members of my Subcommittee over the last year," Linder concluded. "While we have made progress to address both nuclear and biological terrorism in this body, much is left to be done. I am hopeful that Congress will move forward with consideration of both of these important homeland security measures, as preserving the safety and security of the American people is the primary responsibility of the Federal government."