House lawmakers ask GAO to investigate federal lab safety

House lawmakers have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate recent safety breaches at government labs that led to mishandling of live anthrax bacteria and discovery of decades' old smallpox virus samples.

Top Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to Gene Dodaro, comptroller general at the GAO, on Thursday to report back on what protocols federal agencies have in place to prevent safety breaches and what are they doing to improve them.

“GAO has previously reported on several issues associated with the biosafety and biosecurity of federal laboratories that handle pathogens and on risks posed by past incidents,” said the lawmakers. “In light of ongoing biosafety and biosecurity lapses at federal laboratories, we request that GAO continue its work in this area.”

Specifically the lawmakers are asking the GAO to investigate what policies and procedures federal agencies have in place to manage pathogens, and what they are doing to improve them.

The lawmakers also want to know how the agencies evaluate their own safety policies.

The letter was signed by Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Joe Pitts (R- Pa.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.).