Earlier this summer there were a series of incidents involving pathogens (anthrax, H5N1 influenza, and smallpox) in both Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) facilities (the Food and Drug Administration was responsible for the NIH lab where the smallpox was found). Perhaps overshadowed by the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the lapses in security were notable and prompted institutional reviews, at least one congressional hearing and increased calls for oversight. So far those efforts have been focused on the agencies directly affected by the lapses. The CDC has issued a report on the anthrax incident, and the Government Accountability Office has been asked to assess how well federal agencies manage the pathogens under their control.
The Executive Branch joined the fray last week. Posting to the Office of Science and Technology Policy blog, OSTP Director John Holdren and Deputy National Security Adviser Lisa Monaco described the August 18 memo distributed to several federal agencies (any agencies operating facilities that may use, transport, or possess biomedical toxins or infectious agents; a longer list than you might expect). Amongst the recommendations:
- Conduct a ‘Safety Stand-Down’ – a review of biosafety and biosecurity best practices and protocols – within 30 days of the issuance of the memo. This should happen for both federal facilities and non-federal facilities that use federal funding. Documentation of these activities should be submitted by October 15.
- Interagency reviews of federal practices and protocols in biosecurity will run in parallel with a non-federal review (presumably the one initiated by the Department of Health and Human Services described on the bottom of page 3.
More information should be available as the reviews called for in the memo take shape.