Executive Order: Lab Security

-Guest Author: Dr. Gigi Kwik Gronvall, Center for Biosecurity of UPMC

Improving laboratory and pathogen security has been an objective of National Academies of Science panels, a Defense Science Board task force, special government task forces, a Congressional commission, legislation introduced in both the Senate and the House, and many meetings and conferences. Finally, on July 2, 2010, an Executive Order can be added to that list—and it appears that “Optimizing the Security of Biological Select Agents and Toxins in the United States” took some of the best suggestions and recommendations and considerations made over the last several years.

The EO sets in motion a process that should result in a common sense approach to security, and should reduce regulatory fragmentation. It begins processes intended to:

· Organize the Select Agent List into tiers, so not all pathogens are equally in need of physical security measures.

· Reduce the size of the list.

· Coordinate lab inspections and the manner in which they are completed among government agencies.

· Harmonize rules across all government agencies.

In a few years, the bacteria that cause anthrax might no longer require the same security measures as the bacteria that cause brucellosis. And the EO indicates that rules at some agencies may be rescinded in order to achieve uniformity—potentially good news, as some security measures in place do not appear to increase security but take a lot of money, time, and morale away from the researchers.

Many details are TBD. For example, the EO calls for “the establishment of appropriate practices to ensure reliability of personnel with access to Tier 1 agents and toxins at registered facilities”—but it does not state whether that reliability should be guessed at by polygraph (bad idea), or whether facilities should do what the National Academies suggested, which includes management training to detect behaviors that may indicate a security risk. There are various deadlines for the actions included in the EO, ranging from 6 months to 27 months.

So the final product is not yet in place… but this EO certainly points lab security in the right direction.

Read it yourself, and tell me what you think of it.

About biosecureblog

Colonel Randall Larsen, USAF (Ret) -CEO, WMD Center -former Executive Director, Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism -former chairman, Department of Military Strategy and Operations, National War College
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