4
Overcoming Obstacles Confronting the Biological Threat Reduction Program

Many obstacles have been encountered in development and implementation of the Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP). Some have been country-specific, others have arisen due, at least in part, to U.S. government or Department of Defense (DOD) policies, and still others are attributable in significant measure to the policies and attitudes of partner governments, ministries, institutions, or key scientists. While some obstacles have been overcome, the challenge for BTRP is to eliminate or reduce remaining obstacles and prevent new ones from arising. To this end, the program should be flexible in adapting to novel concepts and opportunities, particularly to approaches that encourage long-term sustainability of activities initiated through BTRP.

This chapter describes a variety of obstacles and suggests approaches to reduce obstacles. Some suggestions are of sufficient importance that they are subsequently consolidated with related suggestions in other chapters and formulated in Chapter 6 as major recommendations of this report. Other recommendations in this chapter should also be helpful in improving the effectiveness of BTRP.

Political Support for BTRP

During the past decade, DOD and the U.S. Congress have consistently supported strong financial investment in BTRP. Much of the funding has been directed to dismantling facilities designed to produce or test biological agents for weapons and to enhancing security at other facilities where dangerous pathogen strains are located. Recently, large investments have been made in the Threat Agent Detection and Response (TADR) network. DOD and the Congress have enthusiastically supported such activities that put highly visible constraints on production and diversion of pathogen strains while focusing scientific efforts on surveillance activities.

However, the important research engagement component of BTRP has not had long-term support within DOD, particularly with regard to Russia. DOD’s mistrust of dual-use activities of former Soviet weapon scientists, hesitancy of the Russian government to make special arrangements for American project monitors to have continuing access to sensitive high-hazard areas, and difficulties in recruiting well-qualified American collaborators willing to spend extended periods of time in Russia have all contributed to a sense of unease within DOD over the potential risks of Russian misuse of research results. This unease has led to bureaucratic delays within DOD in processing and reviewing research applications, with spans of many months and even years passing before BTRP has provided feedback to important Russian and American scientists who have prepared proposals with the encouragement of BTRP.

As will be discussed in Chapter 5, future BTRP efforts should give prompt and steady support to collaborative research throughout the region. DOD should recognize that the insights as to research capabilities as well as the technical benefits from research collaboration are very important. There are considerable risks entailed in not participating



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 57
The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense|From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships 4 Overcoming Obstacles Confronting the Biological Threat Reduction Program Many obstacles have been encountered in development and implementation of the Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP). Some have been country-specific, others have arisen due, at least in part, to U.S. government or Department of Defense (DOD) policies, and still others are attributable in significant measure to the policies and attitudes of partner governments, ministries, institutions, or key scientists. While some obstacles have been overcome, the challenge for BTRP is to eliminate or reduce remaining obstacles and prevent new ones from arising. To this end, the program should be flexible in adapting to novel concepts and opportunities, particularly to approaches that encourage long-term sustainability of activities initiated through BTRP. This chapter describes a variety of obstacles and suggests approaches to reduce obstacles. Some suggestions are of sufficient importance that they are subsequently consolidated with related suggestions in other chapters and formulated in Chapter 6 as major recommendations of this report. Other recommendations in this chapter should also be helpful in improving the effectiveness of BTRP. Political Support for BTRP During the past decade, DOD and the U.S. Congress have consistently supported strong financial investment in BTRP. Much of the funding has been directed to dismantling facilities designed to produce or test biological agents for weapons and to enhancing security at other facilities where dangerous pathogen strains are located. Recently, large investments have been made in the Threat Agent Detection and Response (TADR) network. DOD and the Congress have enthusiastically supported such activities that put highly visible constraints on production and diversion of pathogen strains while focusing scientific efforts on surveillance activities. However, the important research engagement component of BTRP has not had long-term support within DOD, particularly with regard to Russia. DOD’s mistrust of dual-use activities of former Soviet weapon scientists, hesitancy of the Russian government to make special arrangements for American project monitors to have continuing access to sensitive high-hazard areas, and difficulties in recruiting well-qualified American collaborators willing to spend extended periods of time in Russia have all contributed to a sense of unease within DOD over the potential risks of Russian misuse of research results. This unease has led to bureaucratic delays within DOD in processing and reviewing research applications, with spans of many months and even years passing before BTRP has provided feedback to important Russian and American scientists who have prepared proposals with the encouragement of BTRP. As will be discussed in Chapter 5, future BTRP efforts should give prompt and steady support to collaborative research throughout the region. DOD should recognize that the insights as to research capabilities as well as the technical benefits from research collaboration are very important. There are considerable risks entailed in not participating

OCR for page 57
The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense|From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships in research engagement activities but instead simply remaining on the sidelines and speculating as to what may be taking place in facilities where research on dangerous pathogens is carried out. As for Russia, approaches to collaborative research are set forth in Chapter 5. They should circumvent the reluctance of the ministries responsible for defense and health activities to become directly engaged with DOD. Such approaches should recognize that the objectives of cooperation conceived in the 1990s need a new emphasis. Box 4-1 presents an official Russian view in this regard. Sustainability of research groups is of course a key concern. Commercialization programs are an important approach to this end, but other strategies for long-term support of basic research also deserve high priority. Box 4-1 From Redirection to Sustainability in Russia “The job of redirecting former weapon scientists to peaceful pursuits is completed, and new cooperative efforts should focus on sustainability and commercialization strategies.” Russian government spokesman, March 2007. Support of BTRP research activities by the U.S. scientific, public health, and agriculture communities, and indeed the international communities, is also important. To this end, BTRP needs to demonstrate easily discernible benefits to the advancement of science, to the health of people, and to the availability of agricultural resources. Of course, BTRP should continue to emphasize the benefits in enhancing security in accordance with its legislative mandate. While small segments of the international and American scientific communities have a general awareness of BTRP activities, greater outreach efforts by BTRP to the scientific community within the United States are increasingly important as the program increases the number of countries and international scientists that are included in its activities. BTRP will only be successful if it has strong and sustained support over many years from partner governments, from their implementing ministries and institutions, and from the scientists in these countries. While most partner governments have been attracted to BTRP, at least in part, by access to a new source of financial support through the program, the economic situation in several of these countries is improving, as discussed in Chapter 1. To remain attractive to these governments, financial aspects should now be accompanied by perceptions that BTRP gives high priority to supporting local scientific, health, and agriculture priorities while enhancing security (see, for example, Box 4-2).

OCR for page 57
The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense|From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships Box 4-2 Neglect of Local Interests “The Americans do not listen to our suggestions. Therefore, the Russian government is losing interest in cooperative programs.” Russian project manager, March 2007. This is not to say that the public health and agriculture authorities in the region are not appreciative of financial support for their activities or that they do not have facilities with a military legacy that need to embrace new research directions. But gaining strong acceptance of cooperative programs should take into account the different perceptions of the likelihood of proliferation originating in the countries of interest and of the threat posed to these countries and to the international community by such acts of proliferation. With regard to most, if not all, countries of interest, the U.S. government is more concerned about this threat than are the partner governments. Priorities of partner governments within the health and agriculture sectors should be a paramount consideration. These sectors have been burdened with infrastructure, personnel, and financial problems that were exacerbated by the financial crisis during the late 1990s. Preventing proliferation does not rival the priorities associated with the day-to-day economic and social problems that need to be addressed in these sectors. Only a comprehensive approach to engagement that is the theme of this report can address such problems while also advancing U.S. security interests. That said, full consultations between BTRP and partner governments prior to launching program activities, coupled with a continued willingness of BTRP to adjust preconceived approaches to accommodate local interests, are essential. Designing surveillance systems and establishing research projects that reflect priority interests of both partner governments and BTRP may not be an easy task, but in the long term common priorities will be the key to sustainability. Unfortunately, this reality has not guided the preparation of BTRP’s country science plans, the design of the TADR network, or the content of the Cooperative Biological Research program. All of these activities have been designed largely in Washington and then marketed to partner governments with varying degrees of success in terms of sustainability. Fortunately, during the last year the BTRP leadership has increasingly recognized the critical importance of jointly conceived and implemented programs. Technical Challenges Some technical challenges are intertwined with policy issues and others with administrative issues. Among the important technical challenges are the following: An understanding of BTRP’s goals and objectives by current and potential program participants is essential. The relationships between the goal of preventing proliferation and BTRP’s contributions to preventing diseases through research and

OCR for page 57
The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense|From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships surveillance activities that strengthen local capabilities on a broad basis should be clear to participants and other interested parties. The upgrading of facilities essential for modern public health, including surveillance systems and research activities, is at the core of the BTRP program. Large numbers of facilities need attention, and required investments in upgrading will be substantial. The quality of the workforces at the selected facilities should be at a sufficiently high level for the tasks of maintaining and operating the facilities. In this regard, BTRP and the partner ministries might consider selecting several candidate facilities for upgrading and then having a competitive application process prior to selecting each one that is to receive BTRP support. Such a competitive process would help ensure that the quality of the workforce becomes an important consideration. Part of this consultative process should be the matching of personnel training schedules to progress in facility upgrades. A directly related concern is the aging workforces that to date have carried the local burden of implementing BTRP. Soviet reliance on seniority as the criterion for having management responsibilities complicates the transition to a more appropriate approach. Serious problems include inadequate computer skills and lack of familiarity with modern technologies (see, for example, Box 4-3). Also, weak English language skills can inhibit the linking of local research and surveillance activities to international interests. Box 4-3 Training on Modern Equipment “Training in laboratory testing and special computer applications is inadequate. Also, more training is needed for operating new equipment.” Senior Uzbek scientist, March 2007. BTRP should emphasize training of young and rising specialists who can be brought into the program and who can quickly adapt to modern approaches to biological research, epidemiology, and other important disciplines. While engagement at the senior levels is important, involvement of the “second tier” of specialists who have decades of professional life ahead is no less important. Indeed, greater involvement of local universities and particularly graduate students would also be a healthy development, particularly since many will have dual-use skills that could become a future concern unless they are committed to peaceful and transparent activities. Use of the Field Epidemiology Training Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or an analogous program for new entrants into the field should be considered. While BTRP can provide training programs for cadres of specialists, only the partner ministries and institutions can ensure that there will be qualified cadres to train. Providing incentives for highly capable young specialists to enter the workforce—including early access to responsible positions—is a particularly important task. In most research settings, they would have access to relatively old but still serviceable equipment. However, increasing opportunities to work in upgraded facilities and to participate in

OCR for page 57
The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense|From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships international conferences should be important motivators to attract and retain young specialists. The engagement of “former weapon scientists,” often in preference to non-weapon scientists, needs to receive less emphasis. An ever growing number of scientists throughout the world who have never been involved in military-related activities are developing dual-use capabilities. Of course, it is important to continue to engage former weapon scientists who have special skills of concern (see Box 4-4), but the primary criteria in selecting scientists for engagement should be two-fold: their potential dual-use capabilities and/or their contributions in strengthening the scientific, public health, and agriculture infrastructures for addressing infectious diseases in their countries. Box 4-4 Importance of Weapon Scientists “Scientists with many years of experience working with the most dangerous pathogens can certainly create greater problems if they were to decide, or were forced, to use this experience elsewhere, say in countries governed by regimes with questionable track records. Their colleagues who worked at ‘open’ institutes usually have only general knowledge of Group A pathogens. Besides, weapon scientists possess specific skill sets and access to dangerous strains of microorganisms. Both could be sources of ‘potential’ threats. But in the case of weapon scientists, it is significantly higher to the point of becoming ‘realistic.’” Former Soviet bioweapon scientist, November 2004. Once facilities are jointly chosen for upgrading, the ministries should be fully engaged in the technical approaches that are chosen and carried out. To the extent possible, the work that is financed by BTRP should be under the direction of the ministries that control the facilities, with BTRP providing quality control and accounting oversight. The role of American integrating commercial contractors in designing and installing upgrades should be limited whenever possible. The long-term payoff from placing greater responsibility in local hands should be substantial even though delays may be encountered. Local managers are in the best position to ensure that the upgrades are designed and installed in a manner that minimizes complications of maintaining upgraded facilities after BTRP has departed from the scene (see, for example, Box 4-5). Box 4-5 Need for Greater Role for Local Managers “Some hardware ordered by the American contractor fails to meet our specifications. For example, freezer plugs don’t fit our power outlets, vortex devices have no plugs, the centrifuge rotor doesn’t match Eppendorf tubes.” Kazakhstani manager for BTRP project, March 2007.

OCR for page 57
The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense|From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships At the broader management level, excessive reliance on integrating commercial contractors can alienate partner institutions (see, for example, Box 4-6). BTRP contractors are often perceived as simply an extension of U.S. military interests, whereas well-known U.S. research organizations—governmental and nongovernmental—that are funded by BTRP are usually considered more legitimate participants in global health and agriculture endeavors. Box 4-6 Problems with Integrating Contractors “Many problems have resulted from BTRP reliance on intermediary contractors who control budgets and do not inform institutes of details of budgets. Also, there is a lack of flexibility in budget practices of contractors with all funds committed at the beginning of projects even if project needs change. Perishable items (e.g., growth mediums and enzymes) are purchased so far in advance that they are out of date and unusable when they are needed.” Georgian senior scientist, March 2007. Metrics are needed for identifying successful approaches in implementing BTRP activities and for guiding future activities. Among the metrics that have been used by BTRP in the past are number of weapon scientists involved, including the number trained number of sustainable jobs created level of matching contributions by cooperating governments or other partners follow-on contracts resulting from research projects number of publications in internationally recognized journals number of patents that have been awarded number of research products that have reached the market number of companies that have been spawned These indicators are important but do not go to the essence of the program, namely, “To what extent has the likelihood of outbreaks of endemic and emerging diseases and the associated terrorist aspects been reduced?” A related concern is the timeliness, adequacy, and quality of responses to outbreaks should they occur. This report has identified many positive changes at the national and facility levels for addressing infectious diseases that are attributed to BTRP and related programs. Developing measures for evaluating the changes (e.g., ease of access to sensitive laboratories, response time in identifying outbreaks) could then provide the foundation for useful metrics. Animal welfare issues have caused delays in BTRP and other U.S.-supported programs. On the other hand, U.S. insistence on meeting appropriate standards of laboratory animal care and use has resulted in significant changes in a number of institutes and has led to international certification of an animal breeding facility in

OCR for page 57
The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense|From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships Russia. BTRP should address animal welfare issues early in its development of research and surveillance programs in each country. Information on a country’s pathogen collections is an important requirement in developing country-specific strategies for achieving the greatest risk reduction. But some ministries may not be prepared to part with such information. The information is more likely to be forthcoming if the engagement program is perceived as strengthening the overall research and surveillance systems of the country. In this regard, the BTRP program needs to underscore the local benefits from sound strategic approaches to controlling diseases. The quality of research proposals prepared by BTRP partner institutions needs upgrading. BTRP should continue its practice of providing the institutions with templates, instructions, and training as to the important aspects that should be addressed in proposals. For example, the proper formulation of the hypothesis, the importance of controls, and the calculation of statistical significance need to be underscored. Results of peer reviews of proposals should be carefully considered in detail by the designers of proposals. Partner institutions need to be better informed about protection of intellectual property. They should understand when and why they should seek protection and the procedures for obtaining such protection. Some U.S. government programs, such as those of the Department of Energy, have specialized modules for technology transfer that could be helpful. Administrative Problems Visas will continue to be a problem when dealing with some countries. At present, visas for Americans traveling to Uzbekistan are uncertain. On occasion, there are time delays for visa issuance by other countries. Also, visa applications for technical specialists traveling to the United States are receiving greater scrutiny than in years past. Sometimes early consultations by BTRP with the Visa Office of the Department of State and/or relevant consulates may help shorten the time line for visa decisions. But BTRP will simply have to recognize this problem and instruct BTRP participants to apply for visas well in advance of planned activities. As discussed in Chapter 3, implementation of BTRP projects has been plagued by the long DOD chain of command that has been established for guiding the process. At present, policy formulation is approved by senior policy officials within DOD, who then instruct the CTR policy office. That office in turn tasks DTRA to implement specific activities. DTRA has several levels of responsible officials, and they in turn must fill in details of the tasks that are being assigned. BTRP then normally turns the tasks over to integrating commercial contractors that typically employ subcontractors. Finally, the tasks come to rest with specialists who are responsible for on-the-ground activities. And these specialists often change positions. The lengthy separation between the policy officials who designed the tasks in the first instance and the implementers has caused difficult program situations. Instructions and decisions from senior DOD officials are often delayed as they go through the lengthy internal process. Instructions are sometimes not clear at the working level given the changes in circumstances on the ground from the time the task was

OCR for page 57
The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense|From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships originally formulated until the time that implementation instructions are in hand. Often the partners in the countries of interest suggest modifications in the instructions. If requests for modifications go back up the chain, further delays and confusion enter the system. The DOD decision process also can cause program disruption as collaborating scientists become impatient and decide to turn their attention to other requests for their services from within the country or abroad that do not involve such delays. Shortening this chain of command within DOD and BTRP would improve the situation. As one example of delays, in 2005 BTRP informed the National Academies that at least 30 months were required to process a research proposal received by BTRP from an institution in the former Soviet Union. Such a delay hardly engenders a sense of urgency in combating the threat of bioterrorism. It raises false expectations as to prompt consideration of proposals among researchers, including important scientists who may have other funding options and therefore may not be included in BTRP. The lengthy process is in sharp contrast to the experience in 1997 of the National Academies in managing eight pilot projects for BTRP, which took an average of three months to move from proposal submission to signature of project agreements. BTRP has been shortening its time line in recent months, and this effort should be strongly encouraged. Enhancing physical security of dangerous pathogens, a focus of BTRP to date, will inevitably be complicated in order to comply with safety and security requirements of both the U.S. and partner governments. The merging of Soviet-era and Western security and safety concepts further complicates mutual understanding of procedures. BTRP needs to continue addressing this problem through consultations and training programs. But it also needs to recognize that misunderstandings are inevitable and not attempt to design a fault-proof system that emphasizes delays and excessive redundancies. One of the most important challenges for BTRP is to have sufficient staff with both technical and area expertise that can design and effectively manage programs in collaboration with foreign partners. At present, BTRP staff has limited technical expertise, particularly in public health and veterinary medicine. Also, it has limited foreign language capability. Too much of the technical responsibility for the program has been turned over to contractors who are simply too far removed from the center of policy and technical decision-making. This has led to unnecessary confusion over the definition of tasks, and often the authorities of contractors have been far from clear. A related concern is the inadequate cultural sensitivity of specialists sent abroad under BTRP. In order to improve this sensitivity, BTRP should have a program of staff training and training for contractors and American collaborators that emphasizes the unique challenges of operating in the former Soviet Union or in other areas where BTRP becomes active.

OCR for page 57
The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense|From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships Recommendation to Improve Efficiency and Effectiveness Against this background, the committee offers the following recommendation: To improve program management, DOD/DTRA should ensure availability of adequate internal technical staffing for BTRP and should recognize that while there is a need for integrating commercial contractors for construction projects, assistance in management of research projects and related training programs can be more appropriately provided by government, academic, or nonprofit organizations. Strengthened internal BTRP staff capabilities are essential to reduce the outsourcing of contacts with important foreign participants and of technical judgments to integrating contractors and to improve the efficiency of the entire management system. DOD and DTRA have not assigned sufficient personnel with adequate technical capabilities to develop, manage, and evaluate a program that currently involves about 600 contractor and other personnel and requires constant judgments to assess scientific uncertainties. The current BTRP staff at DTRA of 17, including 4 with scientific backgrounds, needs augmentation, particularly at the senior levels. Commercial contractors are essential to ensure that complicated construction activities are carried out as planned, that construction funds are properly managed, and that quality control in designing and constructing facilities is maintained. Also, they have capabilities to deploy personnel abroad quickly. However, with regard to support of research projects after laboratory upgrades are completed, there is little need for relatively expensive commercial contractors to be involved. Other government departments such as the Department of Health and Human Services and nonprofit organizations such as the U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation have stronger scientific reputations and considerable experience in providing technical advice and establishing well-accepted mechanisms for transferring funding to partner institutions and to specialists for salaries, laboratory supplies, and research equipment in the former Soviet Union. Also, a number of research components of DOD are highly respected internationally for their scientific expertise, in contrast to integrating contractors, who do not have comparable scientific credentials. These scientific organizations can help BTRP call on American academics who successfully manage competitive research programs for assistance in familiarizing counterparts in partner countries with modern research management techniques. Subcontracting tasks for scientific support to academic or research organizations through commercial integrating contractors has been one way that BTRP has attempted to avoid negative reactions to contractor involvement in research activities, but this approach has been cumbersome and widely viewed as excessively expensive.

OCR for page 57
The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense|From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships This page intentionally left blank.