Warning "the nation is at risk for a catastrophic biological event," the Government Accountability Office is calling on the federal government to better consider "nonfederal capabilities" as the Obama administration develops a national biosurveillance strategy.

Through grants, technical and material assistance, guidance, and information sharing, the federal government has multiple efforts to support state and local biosurveillance initiatives, says GAO, a congressional investigatory agency.

But in the absence of a national strategy, "these efforts are not coordinated or targeted at ensuring effective and efficient national biosurveillance capabilities," the agency notes in a new report. "Because the resources that constitute a national biosurveillance capability are largely owned by nonfederal entities, a national strategy that considers how to leverage nonfederal efforts could improve efforts to build and maintain a national biosurveillance capability."

For instance, the federal government provides support to efforts to control disease in Native American tribal areas and isolated rural communities, "but there are no specific efforts to ensure these areas can contribute to a national biosurveillance capability," GAO contends.

Further, state and local initiatives face considerable challenges in maintaining adequate biosurveillance. These include, among others:

* Scarce resources to attract and maintain public health informatics professionals including those who support database applications;

* Attracting younger laboratory scientists to work in public health;

* Annual uncertainty of available funding; and

* Difficulty planning investments in basic capabilities for multiple disease threats because federal funding focuses on specific diseases rather than building core capabilities.

GAO's recommendation: "In order to help build and maintain a national biosurveillance capability in a manner that accounts for the particular challenges and opportunities of reliance on state and local partnerships, the Homeland Security Council should direct the National Security Staff to ensure that the national biosurveillance strategy (1) incorporates a means to leverage existing efforts that support nonfederal biosurveillance capabilities, (2) considers challenges that nonfederal jurisdictions face in building and maintaining biosurveillance capabilities, and (3) includes a framework to develop a baseline and gap assessment of nonfederal jurisdictions' biosurveillance capabilities as part of its implementation of our previous recommendation for a national biosurveillance strategy."

The GAO report, "Biosurveillance: Nonfederal Capabilities Should Be Considered in Creating a National Biosurveillance Strategy," is available here.


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