Homeland Preparedness News recently interviewed Dr. Asha George, co-director of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, a bipartisan organization recommending changes to U.S. policy and law to strengthen national biodefense.
HPN: The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense is strongly advocating a coordinated approach structure to address the threat and countermeasures of a biological outbreak. What steps do Congress and government agencies need to take to enhance American biosecurity?
George: Our report contains 33 recommendations and over 100 associated action items. Both Congress and the administration need to establish a comprehensive biodefense strategy, fund it sufficiently, and ensure that the programs and activities associated with it are coordinated, collaborative and innovative. None of this will be efficient or effective, though, without putting an overarching leader in charge, one who is aware of what every department and agency is doing to address the biological threat.
HPN: The National Blueprint for Biodefense report was well received by Congress. What are the next advocacy steps for the panel?
George: This year, the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense will stay engaged with Congress, helping it to improve the nation’s biodefense posture and enable the public and private sectors to combat biological threats, vulnerabilities and potential consequences. Currently, we are focusing our efforts on increasing coordination across the biodefense enterprise, improving hospital preparedness, refining medical and other countermeasure development, increasing warfighter protection, and ensuring both good governance and fiscal responsibility in the biodefense arena.
HPN: Recent Congressional hearings showed that a public-private partnership is a major component of American biosecurity. What companies are at the forefront of the medical countermeasures space?
George: Government contracting practices have not worked particularly well when it comes to addressing the nation’s needs for effective countermeasures in advance of attacks and naturally occurring disease events. The government would do well to partner with the private sector instead of treating the companies with which it contracts solely as providers of services and products.
HPN: Anything else our readers should know about the Blue Ribbon Study Panel?
George: In 2016 and beyond, the panel will continue to assess the state of the nation’s biodefense posture, including assessment of the implementation of its recommendations, remain cognizant of current activities in this regard, and help hold our leaders accountable for defending and protecting the nation against biological threats.
We are acutely aware of the danger to our country. We need to realize that endlessly requesting emergency supplemental funding, handing off the leadership baton from one person to the next with each successive crisis, and investing insufficiently in research, development, and other efforts is the least effective way to counter biological, or any, threats.
About Dr. George:
Dr. Asha M. George served in the U.S. House of Representatives as a senior professional staffer and subcommittee staff director at the House Committee on Homeland Security in the 110th and 111th Congress. Currently, she is a principal at Strategic Operational Solutions. She has worked for a variety of other organizations, including government contractors, foundations and non-profits. George also served on active duty in the U.S. Army as a military intelligence officer and as a paratrooper and is a decorated Desert Storm veteran.
George holds a bachelor of arts in natural sciences from Johns Hopkins University, a master of science in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a doctorate in public health from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is also a graduate of the Harvard University National Preparedness Leadership Initiative.