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Last Updated

11 Jun 2003

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 16, 2001.

CDC bioterror response 'gaps' cited

By JEFF NESMITH, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Washington -- Congressional investigators said Thursday they have identified "gaps" in efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prepare for a bioterrorism attack.

"In particular, there are many unmet needs in upgrading state and local capacity to respond to a bioterrorist attack," Janet Heinrich, a General Accounting Office public health specialist, said in a report released at a House committee's bioterrorism hearing.

"There are also further needs in upgrading CDC's capacity, preparedness and response planning, and building the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile," she said.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) stepped up her efforts to get the CDC an additional $1.5 billion over the next five years to update its laboratories and strengthen its security measures. She said that CDC's facilities are "deplorable."

"The fight against bioterrorism is being waged by talented people working in shabby conditions," she said. "Power outages, cramped quarters and inadequate working facilities impair their abilities to find breakthrough cures and treatments."

Harman said she had introduced a bill authorizing the appropriations, along with Reps. John Linder and Saxby Chambliss, both Georgia Republicans, after visiting the CDC as a member of a House subcommittee on terrorism.

"With the threat of biological attacks against Americans growing every day," she said, "we cannot waste a moment in deciding to improve and strengthen our Centers for Disease Control."

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told the committee that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax cases that followed "have greatly sharpened the nation's focus on public health."

"I know some critics are charging that our public health system is not prepared to respond to a major bioterrorist attack," Thompson said. "We should be proud of how we have all responded to events that have broken our hearts, even as they steeled our resolve."

Thompson was accompanied at the hearing by Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, director of the CDC, and Dr. Donald Henderson, the former CDC epidemiologist who went on to head the successful World Health Organization campaign to eradicate smallpox.

Henderson has persuaded the Bush administration to add $500 million to a $350 million Clinton administration program for smallpox vaccine. He now serves as director of a new Office of Public Health Preparedness.

Meanwhile, senators agreed on a bioterrorism spending bill that does not include any of the proposed $300 million annual appropriations, but does increase money for the CDC and spends, overall, more than twice the amount President Bush has proposed.

The bill, which also would increase funds for food inspections and stockpiling drugs, provides $3.2 billion for bioterrorism, said Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Bush had asked for $1.5 billion. House Democrats have introduced an $8 billion appropriation.