Auditors Fault Pentagon Sorting of Biggest Bioweapon Threats

A participant in a Marine Corps-led biodefense drill moves through an Amtrak train in New York City in 2012. Congressional investigators said the Defense Department is not following its own policy to regularly reconsider its list of top biological-weapon threats.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
May 16, 2014, 10:54 a.m.

Aud­it­ors say the De­fense De­part­ment is not fol­low­ing its own pro­ced­ures for guard­ing against “po­ten­tially cata­stroph­ic” bio­lo­gic­al strikes.

Pentagon rules re­quire the agency each year to re­vis­it its list of top bio­lo­gic­al-weapon threats, with an eye to pos­sibly re­shuff­ling the or­der of agents deemed most dan­ger­ous to its mil­it­ary per­son­nel and ci­vil­ians, the con­gres­sion­al Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice said in a re­port is­sued on Thursday.

“Yet, [the De­fense De­part­ment] does not fol­low its es­tab­lished pro­cess for up­dat­ing its bio­lo­gic­al threat pri­or­it­ies,” aud­it­ors wrote in their as­sess­ment.

Fail­ing to reg­u­larly weigh the re­l­at­ive risks posed by vari­ous weapon can­did­ates, they said, makes it un­clear wheth­er the United States is pur­su­ing med­ic­al treat­ments for “the most ser­i­ous and likely bio­lo­gic­al threats.”

The De­fense De­part­ment backed the re­port’s find­ings, ac­cord­ing to a let­ter from An­drew Weber, the Pentagon’s as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for nuc­le­ar, chem­ic­al, and bio­lo­gic­al de­fense pro­grams.

The Pentagon would re­view its biode­fense dir­ect­ives “to en­sure they align with cur­rent … plan­ning pro­cesses,” Weber wrote last week.

GAO aud­it­ors de­scribed “pro­gress” in re­lated areas, in­clud­ing De­fense De­part­ment co­ordin­a­tion with oth­er fed­er­al of­fices to pre­pare against bio­lo­gic­al threats.

The Health and Hu­man Ser­vices and De­fense de­part­ments “have de­veloped in­ter­agency agree­ments and oth­er tools that fa­cil­it­ate com­mu­nic­a­tion on the vari­ous stages of med­ic­al coun­ter­meas­ure de­vel­op­ment,” aud­it­ors wrote.

In ad­di­tion, the Pentagon has worked with the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment on meas­ures “for identi­fy­ing bio­lo­gic­al agents that pose do­mest­ic threats and risks,” the re­port states.

The De­fense De­part­ment main­tains sole re­spons­ib­il­ity for pre­par­ing med­ic­al coun­ter­meas­ures for U.S. mil­it­ary per­son­nel.

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