This Tuesday, October 18, a Senate committee moved a bill forward that would create a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This new agency would help spur private industry to develop and manufacture medical countermeasures for bioterrorism agents and natural outbreaks such as a possible avian flu pandemic. But the bill also makes oversight and accountability of much of America's biodefense efforts nearly impossible.
S. 1873, the Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2005, exempts industry from liability and a new agency within HHS, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA) from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and parts of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). Here's the October 17, 2005 text of the legislation (pdf).
Global Security Newswire lists other questionable aspects of the bill, such as forbidding government purchases of generic drugs thus tying the government's hands.
Several groups such as the National Vaccine Information Center and the Center for Justice and Democracy are opposed to the indemnification of industry. And we at POGO don't see how exempting BARDA from FOIA, FACA and FAR cost/accounting standards can even be justified.
BARDA would be responsible for handling the $5.6 billion Project Bioshield initiative to create a new biodefense industry with government incentives and contracts. Exempting BARDA would mean congressional and public oversight of the agency and its important activities would be severely curtailed. A less effective agency and an American public more vulnerable than it should be are the likely results of this erosion of transparency.