January 19, 2006- Lawmaker Asks How Bioterror Spending Can be Used to Counter Bird Flu

Washington, D.C. –Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the Homeland Security Committee, and Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Committee, today sent a letter to Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller General David M. Walker to request a report evaluating the effectiveness of recent federal spending on our nation’s preparedness for a public health emergency.    The lawmakers’ letter asks GAO to investigate whether spending authorized by the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 and related legislation is being used effectively and appropriately leveraged in the effort to detect and contain a possible outbreak of avian influenza in the United States. 

“Hurricane Katrina underscored the importance of being prepared for a variety of homeland security threats, whether unleashed by Mother Nature or the next Mohammed Atta,” Rep. Markey said.  “In the weeks to come, President Bush will submit his budget for next year, and we must ensure that previous spending on bioterrorism preparedness is being used wisely and, wherever possible, leveraged to prevent a possible avian flu outbreak in our country.”

In their letter, Reps. Markey and Thompson asked a series of questions, such as:

• To what extent are investments already made in federal programs designed to assist national public health preparedness efforts at the federal, state and local levels being used to ensure preparedness in the event of a pandemic influenza?
• What are the limitations of the existing programs in terms of preparing for a pandemic influenza? What additional programs and/or resources need to be put in place in order to prepare the national public health system for pandemic influenza?
• In January 2004, GAO found that all states reported progress in developing the capacities CDC considers critical for public health preparedness. However, no state completed all requirements. Please assess the status of the states’ progress towards meeting the CDC’s 16 critical capacities for preparedness and the states’ progress towards meeting the CDC’s 74 requirements. Have all the states continued to progress towards developing those capacities? Have any of the states completed all of the requirements? Have any of the states capacities deteriorated since 2004?
Following President Bush’s recent emergency request that Congress appropriate $7.1 billion to prepare for an influenza outbreak, Congressman Markey requested information on the successes and failures of previous prevention programs in order to maximize the effectiveness of any new expenditures.  In addition, this request to GAO seeks to determine the extent to which already enacted prevention programs will serve to protect us in the event of an influenza outbreak.

In 2001, Congress approved the “Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Act of 2002,” a 5-year authorization intended to help state and local health departments and hospitals. The Markey and Thompson GAO request seeks information on how these previously appropriated prevention programs are performing, the abilities and limits of current programs with respect to an influenza outbreak, and numerous other performance metrics for federal, state, and local level preparedness.

Letter to GAO Letter to GAO, January 19, 2006

For Immediate Release
January 19, 2006

 CONTACT: Tara McGuinness