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Optimizing the Security of Biological Select Agents and Toxins in the United States

July 7, 2010

The White House celebrated the start of the long holiday weekend with the release of an Executive Order pertaining to our part of the world. (This is the second such EO I’ve seen issued during prime “news dump” time, with the first being the Medical Countermeasures one issued on December 30th, 2009.) Titled, Optimizing the Security of Biological Select Agents and Toxins in the United States, this EO seemingly supports the myriad of recommendations that have come out recently directing the President to act toward securing biological agents that might be used in a bioterrorist attack, while continuing to allow needed research to continue.

To wit:

Section 1.  Policy.  It is the policy of the United States that:

(a)  A robust and productive scientific enterprise that utilizes biological select agents and toxins (BSAT) is essential to national security;

(b)  BSAT shall be secured in a manner appropriate to their risk of misuse, theft, loss, and accidental release; and

(c)  Security measures shall be taken in a coordinated manner that balances their efficacy with the need to minimize the adverse impact on the legitimate use of BSAT.

Section 4 is where the rubber  hits the road. The President directs the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Agriculture to continuing reviewing the Select Agents list, with a mind toward the following:

(a)  designate a subset of the Select Agent List (Tier 1) that presents the greatest risk of deliberate misuse with most significant potential for mass casualties or devastating effects to the economy, critical infrastructure, or public confidence;

(b)  explore options for graded protection of Tier 1 agents and toxins as described in subsection (a) of this section to permit tailored risk management practices based upon relevant contextual factors; and

(c)  consider reducing the overall number of agents and toxins on the Select Agent List.

This is an interesting proposition, and one that I’m inclined to look into more. I mean, have you seen the list recently? It could use some organization, that’s for sure.

The recommendations will be forwarded by the newly formed Federal Experts Security Advisory Panel, comprised of representatives from more than a dozen federal agencies and departments.

From my perspective, this is a good thing. I usually only deal with the CDC/HHS Select Agents, and I find the lack of guidance on just those (even with the Categorization!) to be confusing. Adding the APHIS lists shows a real disregard for planners who have to prepare for all situations absent any type of risk data.

In case you missed it above, here’s the download link.

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