Congress must act to prevent WMD attack (Former Sens. Bob Graham and Jim Talent)

When Senators Lieberman and Collins introduced the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009, they performed a true act of leadership.  They addressed the urgent and the important by taking steps now to prepare for the very real threat of terrorism.

Our Commission unanimously agreed that it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.  And it is more likely that we would face bioterrorism — unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency. This bill is a giant step in the right direction.

Many of the Commission’s recommendations are included in this bill: improving biosecurity, ensuring rapid delivery of medicines and vaccines, enhancing intelligence capabilities, and increasing citizen preparedness.  One aspect of the bill could be misunderstood but plays a critical role: enhancing security in U.S. laboratories.

Fortunately, the approach is based on a strategy of risk management.  The bill creates tiers of regulatory oversight for dangerous pathogens. Most resources and oversight would apply to the most dangerous “tier-one” pathogens, a list that includes closer to eight pathogens than the 80 currently regulated.  This means more focus on the greatest risks. Other pathogens need to be tracked and registered, but aren’t in the same league as anthrax, ebola, and plague.

A tiered approach ensures that U.S. laboratories can focus on innovation and not paperwork.  Meanwhile, we can be more secure knowing that labs dealing with the most dangerous pathogens are safer and more secure.

Our Commission work has given us a grave responsibility — to stay focused on terrorist threats to U.S. security and global stability — and ensure America takes steps to reduce the threats we face.  We look forward to helping move this legislation forward and meet our vital mission.