Laboratories conduct research on hazardous pathogens—such as Ebola virus or anthrax bacteria—in more than 200 labs in the United States. Safety lapses have occurred at some of these labs, raising concerns about whether oversight is effective.
For this testimony, we looked at the Federal Select Agent Program, which is responsible for overseeing these labs, and found room for improvement. For example, the program allows some agencies to oversee their own labs, which could potentially lead to conflicts of interest. In the report on which this testimony is based, we recommended 11 actions to improve oversight.
A photo of a scientist in protective gear working in a high-containment laboratory.
What GAO Found
Why GAO Did This Study
Safety lapses have occurred at laboratories in the United States that conduct research on select agents—such as Ebola virus or anthrax bacteria—that may cause serious or lethal infection in humans, animals, or plants, raising concerns about whether oversight is effective. This statement summarizes information contained in GAO's October 2017 report, titled High-Containment Laboratories: Coordinated Actions Needed to Enhance the Select Agent Program's Oversight of Hazardous Pathogens (GAO-18-145).
GAO's recommendations in GAO-18-145 included that the Federal Select Agent Program (1) assess risks posed by its current structure and address risks as needed; (2) assess the risk of activities it oversees and target reviews to the highest-risk activities; and (3) develop a joint workforce plan. HHS and USDA agreed with GAO's recommendations and outlined actions they are taking, or plan to take, to address them, which GAO will continue to monitor.
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