A week after September 11, 2001, letters containing lethal anthrax spores killed five people, and sparked a an FBI investigation that lasted nine years. Since then, bioweapons research has become a multi-billion-dollar industry: scientists work with dangerous biological agents, like anthrax spores and infectious diseases, to come up with a defense against future biological attacks. One problem: the labs are a hot mess.
According to a report that the Government Accountability Office released today, there is no universal standard for conducting or overseeing biodefense research in the United States. This is partly a problem of ricebowling, where various agencies maintain separate programs to meet their own needs, and these programs are both jealously guarded and kept apart from other, similar programs. The upshot? Researchers don't always know what other researchers are working on and run the risk of needlessly repeating each other's work.
A related problem: the labs don't have standard construction guidelines and operating procedures. For instance: locking the door might be SOP at one lab, and not at another. Disparate rules open the flood gates for human error--and make that error harder to track.
To fix these problems, the GAO report recommends a single federal standard for all high-containment biological research labs and suggests "a national strategy for oversight, including periodic assessments of the nation's need for these laboratories." In other words: Get all the labs on the same page. And if they don't comply, they could be shut down.
The recommendations come four years after the GAO's last assessment, and mostly repeat issues noted then. With simple federal action, like establishing standards for research labs and coordinating the nation's biodefense research strategy, these problems should be perfectly mitigated before any real problems occur.
Of course, such sober assessments could always be ignored in favor of general panic.
Well, this sounds like something that should have existed 40 or 50 years ago...and I'd be willing to bet that if enough digging around were done; we'd find that we've already paid for this common sense, first level remedial control more than once. Any takers?
Who wants to bet on whether or not it's ok for one biolab to leave a door unlocked while another must be locked? Anyone wanna bet on whether or not there are existing protocols and standards on research and development that are supposed to be enforced, but never have been? Including group-wide controls?
We are on this kick here in America, where if no one bothered enforcing existing regulations in ANY area, then here; years down the road where we get slapped with the results of our lack of dedication we all of a sudden need to spend a few more billion to create an environment less effective the second time around.
What's the point in drawing up a new batch of bs that may or may not be followed? These labs all know not to leave a door open. Whether or not our government has been paying attention to the people playing with the superbugs, and whether or not they have any idea what's been done and what hasn't, the owners of the work being conducted sure as hell do. Now supposedly--supposedly--we actually are part owners of much of this research as The American People who pay so much for this stuff. We pay for audits of this stuff too.
Wouldn't it be nice if we just enforced what's on the books now instead of drawing up a whole lot more bs that doesn't have any more teeth to it than last time around?
NONE of the things our government has done in the last many years now has given our government or our people any legal power for ANYTHING that did not already exist. Except in illegal activities.