09.12.12

Homeland Security Subcommittees to Hold Joint Oversight Hearing on DHS Biosurveillance Programs, Will Examine New GAO Report on BioWatch Program

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Washington, D.C. – The Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, chaired by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies, chaired by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), will hold a joint hearing entitled “BioWatch Present and Future: Meeting Mission Needs for Effective Biosurveillance?” tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Room 311 Cannon House Office Building.

To protect the U.S. Homeland from a potentially catastrophic bioterror attack, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) utilizes a variety of biosurveillance tools, including BioWatch and the National Biosurveillance and Integration Center (NBIC).  DHS currently has deployed BioWatch Generation 1 / 2 in high-risk urban areas throughout the country and is undergoing a major acquisition of the BioWatch Generation 3 system (Gen-3), which would be one of the Department’s most expensive acquisitions to date. 

At this hearing, a continuation of the Committee on Homeland Security’s robust oversight of BioWatch, Members will examine a to-be-released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on BioWatch requested by Chairman Bilirakis and Chairman Lungren.  The report, to be released prior to the hearing, is expected to detail shortcomings in this acquisition process. 

The hearing will give Members the opportunity to assess the practicability of implementing Gen-3, what steps are necessary to ensure Gen-3’s effectiveness, and how future acquisition processes can be improved.  It will also provide an opportunity to discuss continued challenges with Gen 1 / 2, DHS’s long-awaited strategic plan for the NBIC, and DHS's role in optimizing biosurveillance generally.

Bilirakis said:  "The Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications and the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies have conducted extensive oversight over BioWatch throughout the 112th Congress.  This hearing continues this important oversight of the Department of Homeland Security's biosurveillance capabilities, and will pay particular attention to the capabilities of BioWatch Generation 1/2 and the procurement of the next generation of BioWatch, known as Gen-3.  With an estimated life cycle cost of $5.8 billion, the Gen-3 procurement is one of the most costly at the Department of Homeland Security.  We must ensure that the development and procurement of the next generation of BioWatch is based on sound science and that we are getting an appropriate return on our investment.  This hearing will provide Members of the Subcommittees an opportunity to consider the efficiency and effectiveness of BioWatch, particularly through the lens of analysis prepared by the Government Accountability Office at the request of Chairman Lungren and myself."

What: Joint Subcommittee Hearing on “BioWatch Present and Future: Meeting Mission Needs for Effective Biosurveillance?”

When: 2 p.m., Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where: 311 Cannon House Office Building                 

**Live video feed will be available HERE

Opening statements, witness testimony, and the live video feed will be available online HERE

Witness List:

Dr. Alexander Garza, MD, MPH
Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs
Chief Medical Officer
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Hon. Rafael Borras
Under Secretary for Management
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Mr. William Jenkins
Director
Homeland Security and Justice Issues
Government Accountability Office

Ms. Frances Phillips
Deputy Secretary
Public Health Services
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
State of Maryland

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