A report laying out a strategic vision for the Defense Department’s biological threat reduction efforts recommends they should be part of a persistent government-wide interagency mechanism that addresses the full range of biological threats and risks to the nation.
While no U.S. agency should have authority for coping with challenges associated with biothreats to the U.S., “currently organizational divisions and boundaries hinder improvements in efficiency and cost-effectiveness,” says the report, which was prepared by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
The report was released on Tuesday although it was completed in January, just as the COVID-19 outbreak was beginning to emerge worldwide. The report was prepared for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which oversees the Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) for DoD.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the devastating power and speed with which infectious disease can spread across the globe,” Gerald Keusch, co-chair of the committee the report and professor of Medicine and Global Health at Boston University, said in a statement. “It will take many U.S. programs working together, and with other governments and nongovernmental organizations, to address the challenges of emerging infectious diseases, as well as other biological threats.”
While the report was prepared for DoD, it acknowledges that threats can be manmade or naturally occurring.
The report, A Strategic Vision for Biological Threat Reduction: The U.S. Department of Defense and Beyond (2020), says that over the next five years the BTRP and other DoD stakeholders should push for a “durable interagency mechanism that draws on medical, military, diplomatic, scientific, and other expertise to address natural, accidental, and intentional biological threats and risks to the deployed force and to the nation.”
Having this routine interagency process will improve situational awareness and threat detection and prevention, “and more timely response,” it says.
The report also says that partnerships in the biothreat reduction space should go beyond the U.S. government to include non-government organizations, other countries, the private sector and academia.
Biosafety incidents and naturally occurring outbreaks have occurred more often than intended biosecurity threats, the report says. Still, with advances in technology and increased connectivity, as well as a breakdown in the willingness to steer clear of unconventional weapons, means “biological risks and threats are ever more complex and the timelines to address them shorter,” the report says.