| WASHINGTON/CHICAGO, July 17
WASHINGTON/CHICAGO, July 17 U.S. lawmakers
investigating repeated safety lapses at government laboratories
questioned Thursday whether the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention was up to the task of fixing the problem, given
similar promises to remedy such breaches in 2012.
The CDC is under scrutiny for a June incident, in which more
than 80 lab workers may have been exposed to live anthrax
bacteria that was mistakenly sent out of a high-security lab on
its Atlanta campus. Federal investigators have since reported
dozens of other infractions at CDC labs that handle deadly
pathogens such as anthrax and avian flu.
A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is investigating
the incident and the CDC's response. Committee members are
weighing the possibility of imposing new outside oversight on
CDC labs and crafting national lab safety standards that would
be administered by a single government body.
On Thursday, Committee Chairman Fred Upton made public a
2012 letter from CDC Director Dr Thomas Frieden saying the
agency had put a senior official in charge of lab security and
was soliciting advice from outside experts in biosecurity.
"We have designated a senior official who will report
directly to the CDC Director regarding concerns or complaints
related to safety at CDC's laboratories," Frieden said in the
letter from September 2012 that was addressed to Upton.
Two years later, those measures did not appear to prevent a
new round of safety breaches, including the anthrax incident.
Last week, Frieden said the CDC had appointed Dr. Michael
Bell to be in charge of lab safety issues and would convene a
panel of outside experts to advise the agency.
"These measures sound very similar to the corrective actions
Dr. Frieden outlined last Friday to address the current lab
crisis," Upton said. "Why should we believe this time that
things will be different?"
Frieden testified on Wednesday at a hearing of the Energy
and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
When asked about the senior official put in charge of lab
security in 2012, Frieden was unable to name the appointee or
describe the official's duties.
"I will have to get back to you about that to get you the
name and the details of what was done pursuant to that letter,"
he told Representative Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican.
CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said on Thursday that CDC official
Joseph Henderson was named to the position around March 2013,
and that the role included a broader portfolio of
responsibilities. Henderson, currently director of the Office of
Safety, Security and Asset Management, sat next to Frieden at
the witness table during the subcommittee hearing.
"When that letter was written in September 2012, there may
have been a person designated in an acting role. Joe was hired
full time seven months later in 2013," Skinner said.
(Editing by Michele Gershberg and Bernadette Baum)