National Security Subcommittee to Examine U.S. Preparedness for Biological Attacks and Infectious Disease Pandemics

Jun 21, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (June 21, 2019)—On Wednesday, June 26, 2019, Rep. Stephen Lynch, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, will hold a hearing on “U.S. Biodefense, Preparedness, and Implications of Antimicrobial Resistance for National Security.”

WHERE: 2247 Rayburn House Office Building 

WHEN: Wednesday, June 26, 2019

TIME: 2:00 p.m. EST

The hearing will be broadcast here

PURPOSE

  • The Subcommittee will evaluate the readiness of the U.S. government and healthcare system, including hospitals and emergency professionals, to respond to naturally-occurring pandemics and biological attacks that could be perpetrated by state and non-state actors
     
  • The Subcommittee will also investigate the growing threat of antimicrobial-resistance, as well as the implications of this challenge for U.S. national security.

BACKGROUND

  • Innovations in biotechnology, such as synthetic biology and gene-editing techniques, have the potential for incredible public health benefits.  However, adversaries can also use these “dual-use” technologies to inflict harm through advanced biological weapons and genetically-modified diseases.
     
  • Non-state actors, including terrorist groups, have actively pursued biological weapons and other forms of weapons of mass destruction.  
     
  • U.S. national security and biodefense capabilities are also threatened by the growing challenge of antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) diseases.  An April 2019 report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations estimated that drug-resistant diseases cause at least 700,000 deaths globally each year, “a figure that could increase to 10 million deaths per year by 2050.”
     
  • Despite directives and strategies from Congress and multiple Administrations, gaps remain in U.S. biodefense capabilities, response, and preparedness. The Trump Administration is reportedly attempting to replace BioWatch with a new system, known as BioDetection 21.  However, this new system “also has severe shortcomings,” and DHS scientific staff reportedly warned that the BioDetection 21 system “frequently can’t distinguish between deadly pathogens and airborne pollen or paper dust, increasing the likelihood of false alarms.”
     
  • Public health officials have identified three key measures needed to curtail the spread of antibiotic resistance:  infection control and prevention, improved stewardship and reduced use of antibiotics, and development of new antibiotics.  However, the pipeline for new antibiotics has been strained by a lack of commercial development as pharmaceutical manufacturers divest from the market.

WITNESSES

Dr. Helen Boucher
Director
Tufts Center for Integrated Management of Antimicrobial Resistance
Tufts Medical Center

Dr. Asha George
Executive Director
Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense

Chris Currie
Director
Emergency Management, Disaster Recovery, and DHS Management Issues
Homeland Security and Justice Team
U.S. Government Accountability Office

Dr. Cham E. Dallas (minority witness)
University Professor and Director
Institute for Disaster Management
University of Georgia

116th Congress