Wednesday, August 12, 2009

GAO Report: Security Problems Persist at U.S. Biolabs

Via -

The United States should move faster to implement security recommendations at laboratories handling the most lethal pathogens, congressional investigators said in a report released today (see GSN, June 9).

The Government Accountability Office faulted the "limited action" of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a consistent security strategy for the nation's five Biosafety Level 4 laboratories, which handle incurable disease agents such as Ebola, the Associated Press reported after obtaining a copy of the document before its release.

"Although CDC has taken some modest steps for studying how to improve perimeter security controls for all BSL-4 labs, CDC has not established a detailed plan to implement our recommendation," the report states.

A CDC panel is expected to review security vulnerabilities at the sites; congressional auditors urged the agency to release records that would open its proceedings to public scrutiny.

Last year, the investigators noted security problems at two sensitive biological defense facilities, which AP identified as an Atlanta laboratory managed by Georgia State University and the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas (see GSN, Oct. 16, 2008). Among the security deficiencies cited were the failure to fully wall off the Atlanta facility and inadequate deployment of surveillance cameras, intruder detectors and armed guards at the Texas research center, the 2008 report said.

Without naming specific laboratories, this week's report says that two sites have taken steps to address previously noted security problems. The Atlanta facility has implemented "a significant number" of GAO recommendations to bolster security while the San Antonio sites has made only "a few changes," the report states. The other three BSL-4 sites had notably better security measures, according to AP.

"I am very troubled that the GAO found significant deficiencies in perimeter security," said Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who called for this week's report.

Collins and Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) are expected to introduce a bill in September that would heighten security requirements at the sensitive germ facilities (Sam Hananel, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, Aug. 5).

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