Former Senators Bob Graham (D-FL) and Jim Talent (R-MO) served as the chair and co-chair of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.
July 12, 2010
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
On January 26, 2010, the Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism issued its report card on the government’s progress regarding recommendations the commission made in its December 2008 report, WORLD AT RISK. Our report card gave a failing grade to the U.S. government’s “capabilities to rapidly respond to biological attacks.”
We are now pleased to report several signs of progress in biodefense from both the executive and legislative branches: Executive Order on Lab Security, the Department of Health and Human Services’ ongoing study on improving the processes for developing, producing and acquiring medical countermeasures, and the introduction and mark-up of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2010 in the House of Representatives. We know that much of this progress is due to your personal interest and intervention in this vital issue. However, all of the progress is now threatened by a decision Congress is considering.
We are deeply concerned to learn that the BioShield Strategic Reserve Fund (SRF) is once again under attack. The proposal, which has passed in the House and is now headed to the Senate for action, would divert funds from the SRF to non-national security programs. While there are many important elements in a comprehensive biodefense program, none are more important than the development, production, and acquisition of medical countermeasures.
The BioShield SRF was established by Congress in 2004 to ensure funds would be available to purchase critically important vaccines and therapeutics required to protect Americans from biological, chemical, and radiological weapons. It was designed to be an iron-clad pledge by the US government to the private sector—if you take the financial risks to research and develop these medical countermeasures, we guarantee the money will be available to purchase them.
Raiding the BioShield SRF for non-biodefense programs will seriously threaten America’s biodefense efforts. Even if all other elements in the response chain are significantly improved, a lack of proper medical countermeasures will be like a well-trained, well-led army without ammunition.
The July 8 response to media inquiries on the SRF issue from Nicholas Shapiro, an assistant White House press secretary, included this statement.
“The Obama Administration conducted a comprehensive review of our national medical countermeasures enterprise and developed a transformative enterprise strategy and linked set of initiatives aimed at producing drugs and vaccines to protect Americans and defend against emerging or deliberate threats.”
We applaud the idea of a “transformative enterprise strategy,” but it cannot succeed with major reductions to the BioShield SRF.
Mr. President, this issue is so important that we feel we must repeat our past warnings in the strongest terms: Raiding the BioShield SRF for non-biodefense programs will drive a stake through the heart of America’s fledgling biodefense efforts. If the BioShield program is defunded now, before your new strategy is even given a chance to work, we will have to find a grade lower than an “F” for our next report card.
It will require your intervention to avoid a self-inflicted wound to America’s national security. We urge you to take action before it is too late.
Bob Graham Jim Talent
1. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services
2. Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Advisor
3. John Brennan, Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security
4. Peter Orzag, Director, Office of Management and Budget