May 24, 2002 (CIDRAP News) The US House and Senate this week approved legislation providing for a wide range of bioterrorism preparedness measures, from funds for hospital preparedness to tracking of dangerous pathogens and increased inspections of imported food.
A House-Senate conference committee finished work May 21 on the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. The House approved the bill May 22 on a vote of 425-1, and the Senate followed suit with a 98-0 vote May 23.
Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., a sponsor of the House bill, commented in a news release, "This critically important legislation includes everything from beefed up food safety regulations to tightened controls on deadly biological agents and improves communications between and among all levels of government, public health officials, first responders and health care providers and facilities during emergencies." Tauzin, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, predicted that President Bush will sign the bill.
The legislation is a compromise version of different measures that were passed by the House and Senate last December. The earlier Senate bill was expected to cost $3.2 billion and the House version was pegged at $2.9 billion. Newspaper reports put the overall cost of the final legislation at about $4.6 billion.
As described in Tauzin's statement and newspaper reports, the bill:
- Authorizes more than $1.5 billion in grants to help states, local governments, and healthcare facilities improve their planning and preparedness, enhance lab capacity, and train personnel, and to develop new drugs and vaccines
- Authorizes more than $1.15 billion for expansion of the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, including the supply of smallpox vaccine
- Authorizes $300 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to upgrade facilities for dealing with public health threats
- Imposes new registration requirements on all possessors of the 36 biological agents and toxins most dangerous to humans and provides for similar regulation of agents that are devastating to crops and livestock. The information gathered will be used to set up a national database on dangerous pathogens
- Authorizes $545 million for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Department of Agriculture to hire hundreds of food-import inspectors, develop new methods to detect contaminated foods, and protect crops and livestock
- Empowers the FDA to detain suspicious foods for inspection, require advance notice of food imports, and gain better access to records needed for investigate the source of food contamination
- Authorizes more than $100 million to help water utilities analyze the vulnerability of drinking-water systems to deliberate contamination
The legislation also renews the Prescription Drug User Fees Act, which allows the FDA to collect fees from drug companies for faster review of new drugs. While the bill authorizes spending on preparedness measures, the actual funds to be spent must be appropriated by Congress separately.
Summary of House version of the bill on Library of Congress Thomas site