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Source: Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2001.


Georgia Senator Proposes Plan For CDC Bioterrorism Center

ATLANTA -- Sen. Max Cleland proposed establishing a new bioterrorism center at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here.

In comments at Emory University, the Democrat from Georgia said he would introduce legislation next week to establish a National Center for Bioterrorism Response and Readiness. If the plan wins approval, the new organization would join roughly a dozen centers under the CDC umbrella, including those focusing on infectious disease, chronic disease, AIDS, and injury prevention.

With more than 20 federal offices playing some role in bioterrorism, Sen. Cleland said, there is a need for one agency to take the lead in a public-health emergency, and the CDC is the logical choice. The CDC was the first to respond to the anthrax attack last fall and has a wealth of experience, he said.

"The CDC is currently a voice in the chorus on bioterrorism," Sen. Cleland said, "but I think it needs to be the conductor."

When asked whether a new bioterrorism center would duplicate existing government programs -- particularly the Office of Public Health Preparedness, which the Bush administration opened in November -- Sen. Cleland said his proposed organization would complement current programs. Sen. Cleland, who is running for re-election this year, said he anticipated initial funding of "several million" dollars for the new center. He also said he would work to boost overall funding for the CDC.

The proposed center's responsibilities would include training an elite bioterrorism-response team, developing response plans for possible bioterror scenarios, developing electronic disease-surveillance systems, administering grants to state and local governments to upgrade their public-health systems, and maintaining the national stockpile of vaccines and antidotes.

The CDC referred questions to its parent agency, the department of Health and Human Services. Bill Pierce, an HHS spokesman, said he couldn't comment in detail on Sen. Cleland's proposal. But he said the Bush administration's investment in bioterrorism preparedness is clear, citing proposed spending of $4.3 billion for such activities at HHS in fiscal 2003 and the creation of the Office of Public Health Preparedness to coordinate the department's bioterrorism initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Marcus Foundation in Atlanta, established by former Home Depot Inc. Chairman Bernard Marcus, pledged $2.8 million to help the CDC establish a high-technology emergency-response center. The gift supplements the foundation's previous donation of $1.1 million.

During the anthrax attack, CDC disease investigators were hampered by inadequate communications equipment. The Marcus funds will help create a 24-hour response center equipped with audio, video and data feeds so scientists can share and analyze information in "real time." The center will include portable satellite transponders, which scientists in the field can use to transmit information and confer with colleagues during a crisis.