BIOTERRORISM FUNDING BOOST SLIGHTS CDC
03 Feb 2003
Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 5, 2002.
Bioterrorism funding boost slights CDC
M.A.J. McKenna - Staff
Fighting bioterrorism is one of the highest priorities in President Bush's spending plan: The budget request released Monday earmarks $5.9 billion to combat it.
Yet the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which led the investigation of last year's anthrax scares, will not receive much of the bonanza. As federal money to fight bioterrorism is directed elsewhere, some of the CDC's programs will suffer.
The White House is budgeting more than four times the $1.4 billion that was appropriated to fight bioterrorism before Sept. 11. But the bulk of that money is not going to the CDC, which will receive $1.6 billion to combat bioterrorism --- a slight increase.
The agency's total budget is projected to be $5.8 billion, down $1 billion --- roughly 15 percent --- from the current fiscal year. While that may look like a big hit, some of the difference can be found in one-time cash infusions, such as $750 million to purchase smallpox vaccine last year.
At the same time, spending for other programs and centers --- including chronic diseases, environmental health, workplace safety and injury prevention --- is being cut by anywhere from $1 million to $31 million.
CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan, who attended Secretary Tommy Thompson's unveiling of the Health and Human Services Department's budget in Washington, drew a distinction between his agency's new assignments and its long-standing responsibilities. The CDC is an HHS agency.
"The increase in our bioterrorism line item ... is very important and long overdue, even though the vast majority of it will go to support state and local health departments," Koplan said.
"Nevertheless, there is a tension between immediate security needs and longer-term broad health issues. As terrible as the bioterrorism attack was, it resulted in five deaths --- whereas we have probably close to 2 million deaths a year in the U.S. from chronic diseases and injuries, a significant proportion of which are preventable."
One of the long-term initiatives hit hardest by the new spending plan will be the CDC's efforts to upgrade its scientific facilities. Members of Congress who toured CDC buildings last fall reacted in horror to collapsing floors and leaking ceilings.
Before the terrorist attacks on America, the CDC had started a 10-year improvement plan that required about $140 million a year for the first few years. In the current budget year, congressional pressure elevated the effort to a five-year plan requiring $250 million a year.
In the 2003 budget, the amount allotted for improving the CDC's campuses is $164 million. Almost half will not be spent in Atlanta. An appropriation of $74 million is earmarked for a new lab at the CDC's facility in Fort Collins, Colo.
Aging buildings at the two Atlanta campuses would get $90 million. That would be enough to finish construction already under way: an environmental toxicology lab on the Chamblee property, a lab at the headquarters near Emory University for studying emerging infectious diseases and a new communications center that would allow the agency to hold conferences or Webcasts and create a computer network for emergencies.
Improvements to other CDC buildings in Atlanta --- including one for the 24/7 Emergency Operations Center created during the anthrax attacks and now crammed into an old auditorium --- would be put on hold.
Dismay among Georgia's congressional delegation at the lack of money for new buildings crossed ideological lines.
"Overall, I'm supportive of the president's efforts to hold down out-of-control federal spending and eliminate pork-barrel projects, but I will strongly oppose any effort to shortchange needed funding for the CDC," said Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.). "It is at the heart of the most important function of the federal government --- protecting the American people --- and it deserves our full support."
The president's proposal is only the first step in the budget process, Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) said. "Given the events of the past four months, it is hard to imagine they would cut the CDC's budget," he said. "There is no way not to move forward as soon as possible and get those buildings as secure as possible."
"We will be fighting hard to make sure we get more than [the $90 million] to stay within the five-year time frame," said Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), chairman of the House subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security.
CDC supporters defended the agency's performance during the anthrax scares and pointed out that the agency's bioterrorism budget is being increased.
But unlike a year ago, they said, the federal government has more bioterrorism mouths to feed: Both the Office of Homeland Security and the HHS Office of Public Health Preparedness were created late last year. At the same time, the effects of an economic recession hit home.
"Last year, we started with only $50 million in the budget" for buildings and facilities, said Kent "Oz" Nelson, retired chairman and CEO of United Parcel Service and a member of Friends of the CDC. "When Thompson became secretary, he raised it to $150 million, and then our friends in Congress helped us get to $250 million."
"Each of the last two years, we have started at very low levels," Nelson said. "We have had great support by local politicians and congressmen and senators from Georgia, as well as from around the country, who have been educated that infrastructure is the thing that gives the CDC the ability to do its work. So we'll have to roll up our sleeves and go back to [Capitol] Hill and keep working on our friends, and find new ones."
Beyond the CDC's budget, the White House spending plan signals acceptance of bioterrorism as a major ongoing threat. In his introduction Monday, President Bush listed countering biological terror as a top priority.
Funds will be distributed broadly through the government.
The budget makes good on Bush's campaign pledge to move toward doubling the budget of the National Institutes of Health, giving the research agency $1.7 billion for bioterrorism research and $27.3 billion overall, including money for vaccine research and new buildings.
Another $1.2 billion will go to state and local health departments; $851 million is targeted for protective programs, including the CDC's National Pharmaceutical Stockpile and Health and Human Services' smallpox vaccine program; and $392 million is earmarked to enhance electronic networks that convey health information in case of an attack.
The Department of Defense would receive $420 million to study biological weapons and terror tactics. Through HHS, hospitals around the nation will get $518 million to detect and treat victims of weapons of mass destruction. And the Food and Drug Adminstration would be allocated $98 million to protect against terrorist threats to the nation's food supply.