About U.S. bio/agrodefense policy
The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic has validated the importance of bio/agrodefense not just for America, but for the world. The warnings issued year after year by infectious disease scientists and clinicians were ignored too long, but hopefully, the events of 2020 will serve as a wake-up call.
The year after September 11th and the anthrax attacks in 2001, al Qaeda's bio/agroterrorism plans were discovered in a cave in Afghanistan. The plans included bioweapons targeting not just people, but crops and livestock as well.
Consequently, Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-9, Defense of United States Agriculture and Food, January 30, 2004, mandated greatly improved bio/agrodefense. Six essential components for protecting agriculture and food were delineated therein (A-F in the graphic below); all are vital. HSPD-10, Biodefense for the 21st century, April 28, 2004, focused on human biothreats.
The "Research and Development" requirement (F) in HSPD-9 called out the need for "safe, secure, and state-of-the-art agriculture biocontainment laboratories that research and develop diagnostic capabilities for foreign animal and zoonotic diseases." New countermeasures for treating those diseases were urgently needed as well. NBAF is the result.
Click here for a 2-page overview of all major requirements of HSPD-9 denoting the federal agencies charged with carrying them out.
Public Law 115-43, Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act, in 2017 amended the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to codify specific HSPD-9 mandates in federal statute for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The bio/agrodefense obligation for the DHS Secretary is defined in the graphic below.
But, what are "the Department's responsibilities pursuant to HSPD-9" for which "oversight and management" are dictated?
They are many and varied, since DHS is the designated lead or co-lead for multiple elements of HSPD-9 as shown below. In fact, no other federal agency has more leadership mandates within HSPD-9 than DHS.
When the 2018 National Biodefense Strategy (NBS) was released by the White House, Sept. 18th, 2018, National Security Presidential Directive/NSPM-14 was issued as well. As noted in the latter, HSPD-9 remains in effect and operational, while its human health counterpart, HSPD-10, was superseded and replaced by the NBS. Thus, the importance of retaining HSPD-9 to protect U.S. agriculture and food was recognized.
Finally, H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, Division P – NATIONAL BIO AND AGRO-DEFENSE FACILITY ACT OF 2020 placed some NBAF-related parameters of HSPD-9 into federal statute. A few highlights are noted in the graphic below.
Although the strategic plan is focused on NBAF, it incorporates many of the overarching requirements of HSPD-9 “to protect the food supply, agriculture, and public health of the U.S.” With biennial updates and congressional committee reviews, federal agency compliance overall should be enhanced.
The lack of compliance HSPD-9 has been a shortcoming since it was put forth in 2004; OIG details below confirm that fact. That has been especially true with regard to the “integrated budget plan” which seems to have been ignored from 2004 forward. Now that it’s a matter of federal law and subject to review by the U.S. House and Senate, perhaps it will be done.
Ongoing Public Policy Failures
Unfortunately, federal agency implementation of HSPD-9 is lacking, at best. As highlighted in the graphics below, little progress has been documented since 2004. Consequently, American agriculture − crops, livestock − and food are not well protected from global biothreats. An initial assessment in 2007 by the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported 16 deficiencies and three of the most concerning ones are listed in the first graphic below. Ten years later, in 2017, the USDA OIG documented even more glaring problems within that agency as shown in the next graphic.
The 2017 amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by Public Law 115-43 − Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act – was intended to lead to improvements by requiring DHS to carry out their responsibilities mandated by HSPD-9. Regrettably, a recent investigation by the DHS Office of Inspector General proves that has not been the case.
Agriculture security is homeland security, but it requires bio/agrodefense policy − HSPD-9 − to be implemented appropriately by federal agencies. That must be done in partnership with agriculture and food stakeholders from the public and private sectors, but it's not today's reality.
Finally, SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) has confirmed that bio/agrodefense preparedness will likely never be achieved via executive orders and related executive actions. Federal statutes are needed with strict implementation plans and metrics applied against those plans that are monitored annually. Sadly, though, SAFA proves that even federal statutes won’t get the job done without active oversight of the federal agencies charged with carrying out the law.