September 24, 2002 - Letter to Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) Regarding Homeland Security

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) understands that you will be offering an alternative Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill in the Senate this week. The ASM is writing to urge you to adopt the House bill's provisions for Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) supported civilian human health related infectious disease research and public health programs in Section 301, Section 303 and Section 505 of HR 5005 as amended and passed by the House on July 26, 2002. The ASM strongly endorses the House bill language which allows the DHHS to retain primary research and funding authority for human health related research and public health programs in collaboration and coordination with the DHS to ensure consistency with the national policy and strategic plan for countering bioterrorism. The House bill addresses issues which the ASM raised with regard to the Administration's June 18 proposed legislation in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on June 25. A copy of the ASM testimony is attached which outlines in detail the ASM's concerns and recommendations for the infectious disease research and public health programs of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The ASM supports the establishment of a Department of Homeland Security, but strongly believes that civilian biodefense research is part of the continuum of infectious disease and biomedical research. It is critical that the DHHS, a scientific, health agency, continue to prioritize, fund and conduct programs related to civilian human health related biomedical and infectious diseases research. DHHS and the National Institutes of Health are best qualified to establish and fund biomedical research and development programs and to identify and prioritize scientific opportunities and applications that are relevant to the most pressing issues and that will yield solutions, as approved in the House bill. Transferring the primary responsibility for civilian biodefense research to the DHS as proposed in the Administration's bill of June 18 would create unpredictability for research and public health programs, would divert funding from research and would not be the optimal way to obtain the integrated work of the best scientific minds.

Although the DHS Undersecretary for Science and Technology will have important intelligence, threat and vulnerability information that should inform the prioritization of research for biodefense across government agencies, the House bill language ensures that the NIH and CDC, which are best positioned to understand and organize the relevant biomedical research and public health programs, can maintain control, direction and funding of infectious disease research and development and public health activities. It is imperative that the public health infrastructure and surveillance systems be structured to recognize both naturally occurring and intentionally released infectious agents and that CDC should have this responsibility. Research related to bioterrorism is inextricably linked to that of naturally occurring infectious agents and development of new antibiotics, antivirals, diagnostics and vaccines. Biodefense research cannot be done in isolation from other dual-purpose infectious disease research and training.

NIH is uniquely positioned to lead the civilian biodefense effort and already has made major scientific accomplishments with significant progress and advances in the area of biodefense research. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is unrivaled in its track record of bringing together the brightest scientists and rigorous peer review. NIAID also has proven ability to work with the private sector from early phase discovery to clinical development and can mobilize the research community. Within three months of September 11, NIAID developed a comprehensive Biodefense Research Agenda with broad input from the scientific, medical, and industrial communities and the Homeland Security Office. Over 20 initiatives already have been initiated to expedite biodefense research. This efficiency is derived from the synergy of aligning biodefense research with other infectious and immunology research.

The ASM is committed to working with Congress and the Administration to achieve the most efficient and effective system for research, control and response to the threat posed by dangerous biological agents and would be pleased to offer any assistance to you as the bill moves forward. Thank you for considering our recommendations.