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  • Washington Highlights

    House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Examines Security of Bioresearch Labs

    Tannaz Rasouli, Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach

    The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee April 20 held a hearing to discuss the security of U.S. biomedical research labs.

    In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Tim Murphy (R– Pa.) expressed his concerns with the Federal Select Agent Program and the Federal government’s high-containment laboratories. Rep. Murphy also highlighted a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that evaluated “the biosafety, biosecurity, and oversight policies for the 8 departments and 15 component agencies that own and operate the Federal government’s high-containment laboratories,” adding that the GAO found that “while the departments and agencies have improved on their biosecurity policies in recent years, comprehensive policies and better oversight of the labs are still needed.”

    House Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) reiterated Rep. Murphy’s concerns over security at bioresearch labs, adding that “[O]ne safety lapse is too many, and we have seen a disturbing trend of late that must be fixed. This is not a game of gotcha - we all want our researchers and lab workers to be safe.”

    Ranking Member Kathy Castor (D – Fla.) highlighted the work bioresearch labs contribute to the biodefense of the country, and added that “labs that handle these dangerous pathogens must be held to the highest standards.” However, she voiced her concern over the recent security lapses, adding that “these recent incidents raise questions about whether or not we can trust high-containment labs to safely handle select agents and other dangerous pathogens.”

    National Institutes of Health (NIH) Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., highlighted how NIH has taken steps to address security lapses at bioresearch labs, noting “NIH identified and inventoried all potentially hazardous biological materials stored in all owned and leased facilities included all infectious agents, non-regulated toxins, poisons, and venoms.” Tabak then discussed NIH’s long-term strategy to address safety at bioresearch labs, adding “NIH developed the Potentially Hazardous Biological Materials Management Plan, which addresses accountability at all levels of NIH and has been fully implemented.”

    Other witnesses included:

    • Major General Brian C. Lein, Commanding General, U.S. Department of Defense;
    • Steve Monroe, Ph.D. Associate Director for Laboratory Science and Safety, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
    • John Neumann, Director, Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office; and
    • Segaran Pillai, Ph.D., Director, Office of Laboratory Science and Safety, Food and Drug Administration