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McCaskill Amendment to WMD Bill Aims to Increase Security at Labs Researching Dangerous Biological Agents

Senator raises concerns over Committee decision to delay WMD bill passage

October 28, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. - With biological and chemical warfare an ever-present modern day threat, we must ensure that research facilities that study dangerous biological agents follow strict security requirements to keep Americans safe. Today, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill successfully added an amendment to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009 that would prevent labs from doing research on high-risk agents if the lab is in violation of security requirements. However, the overall bill was tabled until the relevant federal agencies had an opportunity to address concerns about portions of the legislation. McCaskill opposed the delay.

McCaskill's amendment, which was unanimously accepted by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, would give authority to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to suspend a lab's ability to conduct research on high-risk agents if there are conditions at the lab that do not meet strict security standards. The amendment would also allow the federal government to suspend federal funding for such labs.

"Our scientists are the best and the brightest in the world, but if their labs do not follow strict security standards, Americans across the board will be at risk," McCaskill said. "When we give taxpayer dollars to labs that have serious security violations and are doing research on dangerous biological agents, we are creating targets for terrorists and putting the safety of our nation at risk. That cannot be allowed to continue."

McCaskill's amendment was offered to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009, a bill she cosponsored that aims to protect the United States against terrorist acts with biological agents and other weapons of mass destruction. The amendment strengthens federal agency authority to ensure labs most at risk for a terrorist attack have the necessary measures to secure these dangerous agents. McCaskill first raised the idea at a hearing last month when the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified before the Committee that two of the five labs they investigated did not have the necessary security measures to properly secure high-risk agents.

Specifically, McCaskill's amendment would:

* Give the Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to suspend a lab's ability to do research on high risk agents if they violate security requirements imposed by DHS.

* Require the DHS Secretary to notify all agencies providing funding for high risk research which labs have been suspended.

* Provide authority to the agencies to suspend funding for research on high risk agents.

The Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), who are the lead sponsors of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009, have co-sponsored McCaskill's amendment along with Senator Tom Carper (D-DE).

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