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Statement on Threat of Bioterrorism in America: Assessing the Adequacy of Federal Law Relating to Dangerous Biological Agents by William F. Raub, PH.D.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science Policy
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
Office of the Secretary
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Before the House Committee on Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations,
May 20, 1999
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My colleagues and I at the Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS) welcome your interest in deterring would-be terrorists from using hazardous
biological materials to harm the civilian population and create widespread civil unrest.
Dr. Ostroff of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will describe the activities
of that agency in regulating the transfer of certain hazardous organisms and toxins ("select agents")
between facilities that require them for various research, testing, or educational
purposes. I will present the HHS perspective regarding further steps that might be taken
to prevent biological terrorism.
During the past year, the Department of Justice has been leading an effort within the
Branch to examine current statutes related to terrorist or other criminal use of
hazardous biological materials; to identify needs for new criminal provisions that might
deter such actions; and to develop legislative proposals to meet those needs. HHS staff
have participated in the inter-Departmental discussions. As the President indicated in a
statement last week, he plans to send a broad-ranging crime bill to the Congress in the
near future. That bill is to include proposals related to hazardous biological materials
and biological weapons. Specific candidate provisions now are under consideration by the
President and his senior advisors.
The principal concerns within the Executive
Branch that led to the development of those
provisions are as follows:
1. Although transfer of select agents between facilities is regulated (Part 72 of Title
42 of the Code of Federal Regulations), the current rule does not cover possession by
facilities or individuals when no transfer is involved.
2. Individuals who possess hazardous biological materials of a type or in a quantity
not justified by a peaceful purpose are a danger to society, but current statutes are
insufficient to discourage such behavior.
3. An analogous concern about danger to society and limitations of current statutes
exists with regard to individuals who handle hazardous biological materials knowingly,
recklessly, and in conscious disregard of public health and safety.
4. A hoax or other false report regarding hazardous biological materials warrants
either criminal or civil penalty commensurate with the nature of the act.
5. The question of who should have access to select agents in research and public
health laboratories requires careful attention. Research with select agents is and must
continue to be an integral part of our anti-bioterrorism strategy. The challenge is to
effect appropriate protections against misuse of select agents while ensuring the strong,
sustained program of research that enhanced national security demands.
My HHS colleagues and I look forward to release of the President's legislative proposals and the ensuing discussions
with the Congress, the scientific and public health community, and the general public. We
are prepared to contribute to those discussions to the best of our ability.