CDC Shuts Out Congressional Investigators: 34 Incidents Involving Bioterror Pathogens Go Unreported
There are certain things you have to report. Even as little kids we know this.
If your younger brother doesn’t do his homework before watching TV while mom isn’t home, that’s one thing you don’t have to tell anyone about, if you’re feeling merciful.
But if he falls off the roof and has a bone sticking out, that’s not something you can really get away with sweeping under the rug.
But despite the remedial nature of this distinction, the Centers for Disease Control seem to have lost the lesson somewhere along the way.
To wit, when bioterror pathogens are mishandled, when congressional investigators come asking, you bloody well report that to them. It’s called oversight, and that’s what they’re supposed to do: oversee.
But an alarming recent report seems to indicate that the CDC doesn’t see itself as anything but fully independent–and it appears to be systematic and systemic within the organization, given the frequency with which these “incidents” have occurred.
Because it wasn’t one, or two, or even five times that something went awry when people were working with bioterror pathogens–it was 34 times that such incidents went unreported.
That’s not a series of “incidents,” that’s an epidemic.
The CDC is however sticking to its guns, saying that the 34 separate incidents going unreported to congressional oversight committees were “inadvertent.”
Whatever terminology you want to use, the majority of these cases took place at the CDC’s facility in Fort Collins, Colorado between 2007 and 2011–and we’re only just now hearing about them. One feels certain the residents of Fort Collins would like to have known about them in a bit more timely manner.
All of them involved heavily regulated agricultural viruses that are routinely kept under lock and key, for instance Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus. They are classified by the government as “select agents” due to their potential to be used as bioweapons. Still, the CDC is trying to calm ruffled feathers in Congress, claiming it was a mistake, rather than a system of hiding the truth.
“It was an inadvertent omission,” said Steve Monroe, head of the CDC’s lab safety.
U.S. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) had another term for it: “chronic negligence.”
Here’s hoping Rep. Upton and others in Congress can bring the CDC to heel before anyone is seriously hurt. I’m sure the residents of Fort Collins feel the same.