U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Richard Burr (R-NC) today issued the following statement regarding the need to ensure that the Project BioShield Special Reserve Fund (SRF) is only used for its intended purposes and is not used as a piggy bank for other federal spending. The House-passed 2010 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill (H.R. 4899) included a provision that rescinds $2 billion from the SRF to pay for increased education state aid.
Senator Lieberman stated, "The catastrophic events of September 11th and the anthrax attacks that followed demonstrated that our government was ill prepared to deal with the kinds of terrorist attacks we may well face in the future. Furthermore, the casualty potential of a biological attack is far greater than any terrorist attack we have seen to date. Yet, we still have no modern vaccine for anthrax and no countermeasures for dozens of other potential bioterror pathogens. Our medical first responders will not have the drugs and therapeutics they will need to treat victims of WMD attacks unless we continue to develop those critical countermeasures now. The BioShield program was meant to address these serious security shortcomings and provides assurance that the government is developing and procuring the capabilities it needs to respond effectively to a bio attack. Robbing the program of its funding would be a frightfully shortsighted and would jeopardize the security of the American people against a very real and potent threat."
Senator Gregg stated, "The potential for a biological or bioterror event in the United States is real, and it is critical that our nation is fully prepared at all times. The Project BioShield Special Reserve Fund was established to speed the development and acquisition of vaccines and countermeasures to combat a bioterror attack. Just last week, 1 million doses of a new smallpox vaccine were delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile as a result of a Project BioShield contract.
Gregg continued, "By providing ten-year advance funding for the SRF, Congress intended that countermeasure development funds would not be held hostage by the appropriations process, or even worse, used to offset unrelated new spending, as the House majority has proposed. The Project BioShield rescission included in the House amendment, or any similar future rescission, would devastate the BioShield program by cutting a majority of the program's remaining funding, which is intended for the procurement of new vaccines and countermeasures. It is critically important that we make sure that these potentially lifesaving funds are used for their intended purposes and not used as a convenient political offset for more new spending."
Senator Burr stated, "The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic reminds us of our responsibility to protect Americans from biological threats, whether natural or man-made. While we have made progress, we are still behind the curve in our ability to respond rapidly to biological threats. The Project BioShield Special Reserve Fund was established specifically to help address this vulnerable area in our national security and must not be used as Monopoly money for politicians."
The Project BioShield Act, authored by Senator Gregg and signed into law by President Bush on July 21, 2004 directs the Department of Health and Human Services to improve public health preparedness by encouraging the creation and procurement of vaccines and other countermeasures to effectively respond to a biological event.
In the 109th Congress, Senator Gregg cosponsored the Pandemic and All-Hazard Preparedness Act which was signed into law by President Bush on December 20, 2006. The measure established the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), within the Office of Emergency Preparedness, to further fund cutting-edge research and development of medical countermeasures, including drugs and vaccines, to fight bioterrorism and natural disease outbreaks.
This week, Senators Lieberman, Gregg and Burr along with 13 other Senators from both sides of the aisle wrote to Senate leadership urging them to reject the House's rescission of $2 billion from the SRF in the Supplemental.
The full text of the letter follows:
July 21, 2010
The Honorable Harry Reid The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Office of the Majority Leader Office of the Minority Leader
United States Senate United States Senate
S-221, the Capitol S-230, the Capitol
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:
We write to express our strong objection to the rescission of $2 billion from the pandemic influenza and Project BioShield special reserve funds (SRF) that the House included in its amendment to H.R. 4899, Making Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2010, and urge you not to include such a rescission in this bill or future spending measures. In the last year we have experienced a pandemic influenza outbreak and seen successful and attempted terrorist attacks by extremists groups that still profess interest in acquiring chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This rescission would devastate our efforts to counter such threats by impeding the development and stockpiling of new medical countermeasures against WMD threat agents and pandemic influenza.
The recent H1N1 pandemic influenza is a reminder of the importance of being prepared to respond to a biological attack, whether natural or man-made. The value of our prior investments in pandemic influenza preparedness was demonstrated during the recent H1N1 influenza pandemic. Our response relied heavily on capabilities established only in the last few years with assistance provided by these funds, including new domestic vaccine plants and antiviral drugs. However, we also learned that our response capabilities are still not as robust and fast as they need to be to completely forestall the worst of a pandemic. The House-adopted rescission threatens to derail development of next generation influenza vaccines and expansion of domestic manufacturing capacity that will be essential when, not if, we face another pandemic influenza outbreak.
The SRF was established by the bipartisan Project BioShield Act of 2004 to encourage the development of medical countermeasures to identified WMD threats by providing assurances that the federal government was committed to purchasing new countermeasures if companies invested capital and embarked on years long development programs of those countermeasures. By providing ten-year advance funding for the SRF, Congress attempted to assure countermeasure developers that the funding of this program was not subject to the annual appropriations process. By rescinding these funds, which are obligated to protect the American people, potential countermeasure developers will feel dependent on the actions of future appropriators and may be less inclined to begin or continue countermeasure development, which is precisely the situation that establishment and advance funding of the SRF was designed to ameliorate.
Purchases by the Project BioShield SRF have added new medical countermeasures to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) that enhance our national security. The SNS now includes vaccines and therapeutics to address the threats of anthrax, smallpox, and botulism among other countermeasures. Just this past week, 1 million doses of a new smallpox vaccine that is safer for vulnerable populations was delivered as a result of a Project BioShield contract. However, we need new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines to prevent and respond to additional WMD threats and terrorist attacks. In fact, contrary to claims of proponents of this rescission, the funds in the SRF are expected to be completely obligated by the 2013 sunset in pursuit of the development and acquisition of critical medical countermeasures.
The rescission included in the House amendment, or a similar future rescission, would devastate the BioShield program and, ultimately, damage our national security. It would pull the rug out from under the fledgling biodefense medical countermeasure industry which, from the start, has been wary of the U.S. government's commitment to carrying out development of countermeasures and was the reason that Congress deemed it necessary to establish an advanced appropriation for this endeavor in the first place. We have already seen repercussions of smaller, but sizable, past rescissions for unrelated purposes as important medical countermeasure development projects have been shelved or discontinued. This rescission would inevitably result in advanced research and development contracts being cancelled and more years lost in our efforts to prepare for, and protect our citizens from, WMD terrorist attacks.
The Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism has repeatedly warned of the near-term threat of a biological attack and the need for our nation to enhance our capabilities to rapidly respond to such threats and prevent mass casualties. Therefore, we strongly urge you not to include a rescission of these critical programs during consideration of H.R. 4899 or future spending measures. We are grateful for your consideration of this request.