Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have introduced the Weapons of Mass Destruction Preparedness and Prevention Act of 2009 (SB-1649). The bill is based on the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission report, “World at Risk,” and is focused on preventing a biological attack.
If enacted, the legislation would impose a new series of controlled pathogen regulations, in addition to the current select agent regulations, that would create a Tier 1 group of pathogens based on their likelihood of being weaponized. In addition, the bill would require containment labs and other facilities dealing with pathogens not on the select agent list to register with the federal government and would grant greater authority to the Department of Homeland Security in regulating pathogen control and laboratory biosecurity. Other portions of the WMD act relate to emergency response, public communication in the event of an attack and increasing biosecurity and biosafety internationally.
At a U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing, WMD commission chairs and former Sens. Bob Graham and Jim Talent testified that the nation was in imminent danger of a biological attack and the most likely threat was that of a “rogue scientist” acting from within a U.S. laboratory. Another witness, from the Government Accountability Office, presented information from a July GAO report showing that only three of the five biosafety Level Four facilities described possessed 15 factors related to perimeter security.
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology has provided informal comments on the legislation and is working to develop more formal comments through our Biosecurity Subcommittee of the Science Policy Committee. FASEB is concerned about both the proposed increased authority for DHS and the implementation of overlapping and potentially burdensome regulations, with little improvement in security. Currently, there is no House equivalent of the legislation.