recommended reading

Citing Anthrax and Smallpox Scares, White House Tells Federal Labs to Take Stock

A laboratory at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A laboratory at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention // David Goldman/AP

After recent mishandling of potentially deadly pathogens, the White House is urging all federal laboratories to conduct what it is calling a “safety stand-down,” security and science officials announced Thursday.

Agencies that handle infectious agents or toxins have been asked to complete overviews of their programs within 30 days of a memo dated Aug. 18.

“During the safety stand-down period, leaders will devote significant, dedicated time to review laboratory biosafety and biosecurity best practices and protocols, as well as to develop and implement plans for sustained monitoring,” the White House memo said.

The memo applied to federal facilities as well as extramural facilities that receive federal funding, according to a blog post from Lisa Monaco, homeland security adviser to the president, and Dr. John Holdren, who directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

In the longer term, officials are setting up federal and nonfederal committees to review “government’s biosafety and biosecurity practices and oversight system for federally funded activities,” Monaco and Holdren said.

The blog mentioned the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as an example of a naturally arising infectious disease federal scientists must confront and the anthrax attacks of 2001 as an example of pathogens deliberately released to cause harm.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this summer said potentially viable anthrax samples were transferred to an insufficiently secure laboratory after they were prematurely declared sterile. Around the same time, decades-old smallpox samples were found in the cold storage area of Food and Drug Administration labs at the National Institutes of Health.

CDC spokesman Benjamin N. Haynes told Nextgov on Thursday his agency “is going far beyond the actions in the memo.”

For instance, CDC Director Thomas Frieden in July put a moratorium on transferring biological material out of the agency’s most biosecure labs that would only be lifted on a lab-by-lab basis after thorough reviews.  

“CDC is already in the process of conducting the sweep and should be completed by Sept. 30,” Haynes said. “Any high consequence pathogens or select agents found will be reported through the normal channels. To date, no CDC labs have found anything that requires reporting.”

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.