Key Issues > Duplication & Cost Savings > GAO's Action Tracker > Biological Threats (2011-21)
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Homeland Security/Law Enforcement: Biological Threats (2011-21)

Strategic oversight mechanisms could help integrate fragmented interagency efforts to defend against biological threats.

Action:

The Homeland Security Council (HSC) should consider establishing a focal point to coordinate federal biodefense activities, including biosurveillance.

Progress:

The HSC has established a focal point to coordinate federal biodefense activities, as GAO suggested in March 2011. According to National Security Council (NSC) staff, which supports the HSC, two directorates work together as the focal point for federal biodefense efforts. Further, NSC staff told GAO in December 2014 that to ensure comprehensive support of federal biodefense efforts, they identified specific positions to serve as the focal points for domestic and global efforts to counter biological threats in their respective directorates.  Together, according to NSC staff, these focal points provide strategic leadership on all federal biodefense efforts, with responsibilities to coordinate across domestic and global priorities to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to biological threats. The focal points are to host ongoing meetings with the federal biodefense enterprise to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated approach to biodefense. The designation of these focal points to provide leadership in setting priorities and promoting a comprehensive and coordinated approach to biodefense is an important step toward ensuring effective and efficient efforts across the biodefense enterprise.

Implementing Entity:

Homeland Security Council

Action:

The overarching biodefense enterprise would benefit from strategic oversight mechanisms, including a national strategy, to ensure efficient, effective, and accountable results.

Progress:

As of February 2020, GAO determined that the National Biodefense Strategy and its associated plans bring together the efforts of federal agencies with significant biodefense roles, responsibilities, and resources for intentional, accidental, and naturally-occurring threats and provide processes for collecting and analyzing comprehensive information across the enterprise. Therefore, the design of the Strategy and its associated plans meet the intent of this action item by creating an opportunity to identify gaps and consider enterprise-wide risk and resources for investment trade off decisions, an important step toward the kind of enterprise-wide strategic decision making GAO suggested in March 2011.

GAO reported in March 2011, that while some high-level biodefense-related strategies existed, they did not provide an integrated national strategy that could be used to guide the (1) systematic identification of risk, (2) assessment of resources needed to address those risks, and (3) the prioritization and allocation of investment across the entire biodefense enterprise. Addressing the issues that confront the biodefense enterprise is a difficult and complex challenge that crosses mission areas, federal departments, and sectors. The challenges underscore the need for a strategy to help ensure efficiency and effectiveness across the entire biodefense enterprise by connecting strategic approaches and investment decisions across disparate but interrelated functions within the biodefense enterprise, such as (1) understanding and defining threats, (2) taking action to prevent and protect against attacks and significant national and international infectious disease outbreaks, (3) employing new and existing techniques and technologies to more quickly detect biological events, and (4) preparing to respond and recover.

In September 2018, the White House, in response to a requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA), released a National Biodefense Strategy and implementation plan and accompanying National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM-14), with additional guidance for strategy implementation. The White House's NSPM-14 describes a governance structure and steps necessary to implement the National Biodefense Strategy. For example, NSPM-14 established a Biodefense Steering Committee composed of relevant federal agencies and chaired by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to guide implementation.

Implementing Entity:

Homeland Security Council
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    • Christopher P. Currie
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