Chemical and Biological Defense:

Observations on Nonmedical Chemical and Biological R&D Programs

T-NSIAD-00-130: Published: Mar 22, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 22, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its recent reports on the coordination of federal nonmedical research and development programs that address chemical and biological threats, focusing on: (1) the similarities among nonmedical research and development programs; and (2) how coordination mechanisms may ineffectively address potential duplication, research gaps, and opportunities for collaboration.

GAO noted that: (1) each of the federally funded programs conducting nonmedical research and development on threats from chemical and biological agents has its own mission objective; (2) GAO found many similarities among these programs in terms of the research and development activities they engage in, the threats they intend to address, the types of capabilities they seek to develop, the technologies they pursue in developing those capabilities, and the organizations they use to conduct the work; (3) two of the programs focus on threats to the military, and the other two focus on threats to civilians; (4) however, the military and civilian user communities are concerned about many of the same chemical and biological substances--such as nerve gas--and possible perpetrators--such as foreign terrorists; (5) these programs are seeking to develop many of the same capabilities, such as detection and identification of biological agents; (6) furthermore, the types of technologies they pursue to achieve those capabilities may overlap; (7) these programs may contract with the same groups of laboratories to perform research and development work; (8) although the four programs GAO examined use both formal and informal mechanisms for coordination, several problems may hamper their coordination efforts; (9) participation in formal and informal coordination mechanisms is inconsistent; (10) program officials cited a lack of comprehensive information on which chemical and biological threats to the civilian population are the most important and on what capabilities for addressing these threats are most needed; (11) several programs do not formally incorporate existing information on chemical and biological threats or needed capabilities in deciding what research and development projects to fund; and (12) having and using detailed information on civilian chemical and biological threats and the capabilities needed to respond to those threats would enable coordination mechanisms to better assess whether inefficient duplication or critical research gaps exist, and if so, what changes should be made in federal research and development programs.

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