Month: June 2015

Don’t let successful biodefense programs die on the appropriations vine

June 24, 2015

Cutting corners on biodefense funding will leave the nation vulnerable

by The Honorable Mike Rogers

As a member of Congress, there were a few things that regularly kept me up at night. One was a repeat of the attacks on September 11, 2001. Another was a successful biological attack. That’s why I spent a decade strengthening our intelligence agencies and passing laws to create biodefense preparedness programs.

The threat of a biological attack or outbreak remains just as real today as it did when I came to Congress. And the government’s responsibility to protect U.S. citizens from a biological attack remains. To meet this obligation, I worked in Congress to create the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) co-authored by Congressman Ann Eshoo (D-CA). BARDA’s mission is a critical one: protect U.S. citizens from a biological attack or outbreak by developing and stockpiling medical countermeasures (MCMs).

BARDA’s basic goal is to ensure that in an emergency, the nation would have a supply of safe vaccines and drugs against the most dangerous pathogens that could save lives. To stockpile these products Congress created a unique funding mechanism called the Project BioShield Special Reserve Fund (SRF). BARDA uses the SRF to procure countermeasures that are in advanced development, before they have gained approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

As we’ve learned during the tragic Ebola outbreak over the last eight months, the most effective way to combat an infectious disease or a biological terrorist attack is with an effective vaccine or treatment that can quickly save lives. But we also learned the government isn’t equipped to do this job alone. It has to harness the innovation of partners in the private sector.

Unlike traditional drug development, the federal government is the only market for these products, which cannot be sold to doctors, hospitals, or pharmacies. As a result, the SRF has been the sole biodefense market for the last 10 years after Congress put $5.6 billion in the fund in 2004 to procure successful MCMs. Without this demonstrated market for these products companies cannot guarantee to their investors that there will be a customer for their products or a return on their financial investment.

But the SRF expired in 2013 after the funds were successfully used to add 12 new countermeasures to the national stockpile. So I authored the law in Congress to reauthorize federal biodefense programs. The bipartisan effort in 2013 to reauthorize these programs passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote.

Unfortunately, appropriations in recent years for the SRF have not followed – the fund has only received about 20 percent of the $2.8 billion Congress authorized.  My experience as the author of these biodefense programs, and as the former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has taught me that we must dedicate resources against these threats or the nation will be left vulnerable.

Funding for biodefense must be a top priority.  The Ebola epidemic clearly demonstrated that Congress should not appropriate by crisis.  We must adequately fund biodefense programs before an attack or an outbreak occurs.  This is a rare issue upon which people across the political spectrum can agree.

Next year, BARDA has planned $646 million in purchases of treatments against threats including anthrax, smallpox, Ebola, and chemical weapons. Current funding plans would only cover about a third of these projects.

Funding the SRF at only a small fraction of the amount it needs would leave our nation vulnerable. Nearly $400 million of planned MCM projects will go unfunded by this action.  This drastic cut will force BARDA to pick and choose which threats we will be prepared for, and which threats we will be vulnerable against.

This is not a time to cut corners on a program we know is important and one that is actually working as intended.  The U.S. must adequately fund the SRF or it’s not performing its most important job – providing for the common defense.

Take the Lead in Keeping America Secure

June 3, 2015

America’s position in the world is shifting beneath us.
Strategically speaking, we are ceding ground to the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, and to terrorists. All of this has a negative impact on our future.

Congress can take some important steps this year to turn back this dangerous trend threatening America’s leadership role in the world.

A good start would be an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and renewal of the PATRIOT Act to defeat ISIS. ISIS should be confronted with a unified military, diplomatic and legal strategy that does justice to the threat ISIS is: a terrorist organization with territory and an army hell-bent on our destruction.

Strategically speaking, we are ceding ground to the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, and to terrorists.  All of this has a negative impact on our future.

Congress should also reject the proposed nuclear deal with Iran in order to prevent a highly destabilizing nuclear and conventional arms race in the Middle East. The proposed deal with Iran does nothing to stop weaponization or missile development, two of three critical elements needed to become a nuclear armed power. As the world’s most prolific state sponsor of terrorism, I can only imagine the kind of trouble that Iran’s Quds Force would create for the United States and our allies with the security a nuclear umbrella provides.

Unfortunately, Iran is just one player in a greater proliferation problem. The potential for a deal there has sparked nuclear interest from Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. In fact, Saudi Arabia recently entered into a $2 billion, 20 year agreement with South Korea to explore the construction of two nuclear reactors.

The UAE is now questioning whether it wants to continue to abide by the 123 Program and Jordan has entered into a nuclear deal with Russia. These are the real consequences of sliding away from the original objective to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

As for China, the U.S. just signed off on selling dual-use nuclear technology to the Chinese that could provide them with quieter ballistic missile submarines, making them harder to track, thus shifting the balance of power. The Chinese are pushing the U.S. and our allies out of the South China Sea, through which 40% of the world’s trade travels. And they have taken aim at America’s dominance of space, upending the previously benign environment by fielding missiles capable of destroying satellites.

Congress can push back on these and other Chinese aggressions through the appropriations and defense authorization process.

Finally, the Chinese and Russians are eating our lunch in cyberspace. Not only are they stealing staggering amounts of intellectual property and sitting on our critical infrastructure and financial services networks, they are working to create a new Internet – one that they control. These two authoritarian nations have formally agreed not to hack each other and to cooperate on technology that can stifle dissent and oppression against their own people.

President Obama’s recent Executive Order that would create a sanctions regimen against foreign hackers is an important start, but much more must be done on cybersecurity. Creating instantaneous, voluntary sharing of malicious code between the government and private sector is a critical first step in protecting this nation’s lifeblood: private industry. Right now the government is legally unable to notify companies of impending attacks or malicious code and programs sent to infiltrate their networks. Legislation passed in the House and pending in the Senate would create such a common sense program. This is an easy fix that will save intellectual property and the American jobs that come with it.

Congress can take some important steps this year to turn back this dangerous trend threatening America’s leadership role in the world.

Congress also needs to weigh in on Chinese and Russian efforts to manipulate control of the Internet at the United Nations. They are doing this to improve their position – at our expense.

Congress can take the lead on each of these important national security priorities this year. Doing so would improve our standing in the world today and provide a better future for the next generation of Americans.

Originally appeared in The Ripon Forum.
Mike Rogers is the former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently the host of a nationally-syndicated talk show on Westwood One. He also serves as Honorary Chairman of Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security, and as a Distinguished Fellow at the Hudson Institute.