Today the American Association for Advancement in Science (AAAS) Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy sponsored a briefing on Capitol Hill entitled “Understanding President Bush’s FY2009 Biodefense Budget Request.” Dr. Alan Pearson of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation was the featured speaker at the event and his presentation was followed up by comments from distinguished roundtable panelists.
Dr. Pearson has done an in-depth analysis of federal biodefense funding and his full report “Federal Funding for Biological Weapons and Defense, Fiscal Years 2001 to 2009” is available online. Today Dr. Pearson presented data from this report and highlighted some trends. On the whole, since FY02, federal biodefense funding has remained relatively consistent between 5 and 7 billion dollars each year. In addition to this, Project BioShield received 3.3 billion dollars in FY04 and FY05 and is slated to receive an additional 2.175 billion in FY09 (which will bump total FY09 spending to nearly 9 billion). Overall, the bulk of funding is received by the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of the funding goes towards research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) as well as medical countermeasures procurement and stockpiling. In general, funding for these activities as well as surveillance and food and agriculture needs has been increasing since FY03, but money provided for state and local hospital preparedness is actually declining.
Dr. Pearson also pointed out that funding for prevention projects as compared to RDT&E projects decreased to about 3% of total biodefense spending immediately following September 11, 2001. For FY08 and FY09, funding has returned to 7%, which is approximately equal to the pre-9/11 levels. Other trends Pearson mentioned were the increased focus on global engagement as opposed to focusing on the former Soviet Union, and an increased emphasis on infectious disease surveillance, biosafety and biosecurity.
Immediately following Dr. Pearson’s presentation the roundtable panelists each added a few comments of their own. Dr. Brad Smith of the UPMC Center for Biosecurity said a few words about medical countermeasures. Specifically he noted that this really isn’t a large amount of money in defense terms, and likely isn’t adequate for the long term nature of drug development and testing to protect the entire nation.
Dr. Gerald Epstein from the Center for Strategic and International Studies continued by pointing out that this really isn’t a problem that can be addressed using an export control model as has been done in the past for nuclear material. In this case the spread of biotechnology is necessary to promote long-term capacity building worldwide, and the dual-use nature of it presents the security problem.
Dr. Eric Toner of the UPMC Center for Biosecurity briefly brought up the lessons learned from the 2001 anthrax attacks. He noted that hospitals are better prepared today to handle an event and have greatly improved the communications networks within their region and with first responders.
Dr. James Roth from Iowa State University discussed agriculture and food defense. He argued that this sector is underfunded because the U.S., since the end of World War II, has always had plenty of (cheap) food available. This has dramatically changed, and now the lack of agriculture and food security present huge vulnerabilities.
Finally, Dr. Georges Benjamin from the American Public Health Association talked about infectious disease surveillance and public health preparedness. He highlighted the fact that within the U.S. there is no culture of civilian preparedness; that most people have not recognized this issue as part of their daily lives and have not made family disaster plans.