Republicans are supposed to be the tight fisted fiscal conservatives and Democrats the ones who think that problems can be solved by throwing federal money at it. In reality it is just the opposite, a triumph for Republican image makers but a disaster for the rest of us who have lived through a decade of Republican Congressional and then Bush administration profligacy, with nothing to show for it but a widening gap between the favored plutocrats and everyone else. One sees it everywhere, most spectacularly in the Iraq debacle, which has enriched Bush – Cheny cronies while wreaking violence on hapless Iraqis and US soldiers. But it has slopped over into science and science policy as well. Recently the American Institute for Biological Science (AIBS), no radical group by any means, wondered what has become of the billions spent in the biodefense effort (see also here):
Yet according to fiscal year 2009 DHS budget documents, “A comprehensive understanding of how biodefense initiatives are coordinated at various levels of government and the private sector does not exist.”
Evidence pointing toward inadequate oversight amid expansive growth in the number of biosafety research laboratories emerged during an Oc tober 2007 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Keith Rhodes of the Government Account ability Office (GAO) testified that no one agency is responsible for tracking the rapidly growing number of high-containment labs (BSL-3 and BSL-4) in the academic, state, and private sectors. In fact, the GAO review revealed that even the number of BSL-3 labs — where work is done on biological agents such as anthrax and West Nile virus — remains unknown. (AIBS)
We’re talking about some real money here, at least in terms of science dollars. It’s estimated that some $40 billion have been spent in civilian biodefense since 2001, $5 billion last year alone. A lot of it has gone into the construction of laboratories, whose size and location no one agency keeps track of, let alone whether we need them. And with each of them that handles dangerous agents comes the risk of a lab accident. The more these agents are handled the larger the risk and no one knows who is doing the handling, where and for what. Much of the money has also gone to develop vaccines or drugs for diseases no one suffers from (like inhalational anthrax). I am not aware of a single vaccine or drug or diagnostic kit developed under the biodefense enterprise which has come to fruition or is even available for limited use.
The US biodefense initiative is an incompetently managed, unplanned, unthought out, ineffective waste of money. In other words, typical Bush administration.