Local Politics

Price: Homeland security programs must prove their worth

Posted February 25, 2010 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated October 21, 2015 11:41 a.m. EDT

U.S. Rep. David Price, D-District 4

— Fourth District Congressman David Price asked for specifics Thursday on the federal plan to improve notification and response in the case of a biological attack. Price, a Democrat, is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

In remarks at a committee meeting Thursday afternoon, Price described the challenges the Department of Homeland Security has faced to date in developing a system to detect and respond to an attack.

"BioWatch is a system of detectors, which currently exist in more than 30 cities nationwide, designed to trigger a public health response from the earliest time after the release of a biological pathogen. The National Biosurveillance Integration Center was envisioned to be a hub of federal information collection to identify biological events of national significance," he described.

"Both of these programs have met significant challenges during the past few years, ranging from technological issues to implementation difficulties."

The committee was hearing testimony from the Dr. Alex Garza, who manages the office that oversees both programs, and from experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and those who specialize in bio-surveillance technology.

"The BioWatch program has been plagued by difficulties," Price said. "I fear that these issues led our state and local partners to lose faith in the validity and usefulness of the BioWatch program."

He said confidence in the system was key to getting the $173 million in requested federal funding to continue testing and deployment.

"Before this subcommittee can feel comfortable recommending full funding of this program, we must be sure that it is a well developed proposal, both technologically, as well as from a risk management perspective," Price said.

He then went on to question the vision for the NBIC, saying, "I look forward to understanding how this will provide a more complete surveillance picture and how it will add value to the current reporting that states already do through other federal agencies, such as the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and other parts of DHS.

"While it is extremely important that the nation identify a biological event as early as possible, we need to make sure we are making smart investments which are supported by sound planning, evaluation and decision making," Price concluded.