The biodefense boondoggle

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.

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Brother, you are fooling yourself if you believe these people are incompetent and dumb. In this Orwellian world of ours, bio-defense means bio-warfare. Recently, someone in the administration stated his fear that AQI could conduct a bioterrorist attack since there were more than 1 million scientists in the world who had access to these bugs.

Now post 9-11, when we are supposed to be worried about terrorism, our borders are flooded with immigrants, and we do not have an accounting of these labs and people who might have access to stuff like anthrax? Remember, we were attacked by Anthrax already and we know AQ was not behind it, and they are still loose.

You may call it stupidity. I call it by design. So after the next attack we can shrug our shoulders and not catch the terrorist because "Bush was stupid". BS

Once you figure out 9-11, this other stuff gets easier to figure out.

Uh Revere, the decision to fund these facilities was garnered with some very high Senate and Democrat votes. Basically put, it was way above the number needed on something like six or seven votes on this stuff. A lot of it went to the political states where swing votes might have been needed. You and I do agree upon the single fact that these guys are messing with fire. I want them sitting out in the middle of the desert and 1000 feet below the surface with a single switch on 10,000 gallons of gasoline and pure oxygen that says Auto Destruct.

The GAO doesnt know, okay thats acceptable. The CDC does and they are very lax on their monitoring of these facilities. Cases of infection, doors left open and where in Hell did someone get the anthrax to do NBC, the Enquirer and Daschles office. I disliked the man immensely but its just like Obama, I dont give a shit about his politics if they are attacking him or any other Americans.

So Rhodes statement really is that "he" and the GAO dont know. Big surprise... its Congress. But the money for this was just like the savings and loan scandal from the 80's. They voted to deregulate and then didnt vote money for addtional bank examiners.

PFT might be partially right. By "design" isnt too far off. My problem with it is the BSL-4's which have horrendous stuff and kids working with it. That should be at Ft. Detrick and there only. Bio-defense as he says is bio-warfare. You have to have the agents to produce the fix. If something gets loose, is a university going to be responsible. I dont think there is an insurance policy that big myself. So Congress is going to have to take up the reins of this one.

E.g. Katrina.... WTF do you do if one of these places gets knocked over, everything is stolen and a couple of vials of ugly are atomized in a bus station, or a train, or airport terminal? It still kills a city or two before they figure it out. Who is responsible? Maybe the state of origination? Security to these places are based on peacetime I'm okay, you are okay. I saw the one here locally and I could be in the freezer in about five minutes with composition B, or C-4 and a couple of semi automatics. Might not even need that but a silenced CAR-15 likely would blow the hinges off of the door. Screw the access codes. Its .223.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 02 Jun 2008 #permalink

Randy: No, it is not the case the BSL4 has horrendous stuff and kids working on it. That describes BSL3. H5N1 is BSL3, for example, as are many other really nasty bugs. BSL4 has some bad bugs but they aren't very contagious (e.g., Ebola) and the people who work in a BSL4 are well trained and experienced. Not the case with BSL3. I don't think these funds should have been voted, by Democrats or Republicans. But it is the Bush administration who is in charge of spending them and overseeing the results.