Monday, October 17, 2005

Project BioShield: Flawed or Fraudulent?

POGO offers some disconsolate thoughts on Stewart Simonson, who heads Project BioShield.

Simonson's qualifications for this job are, to put it politely, modest. Prior to a stint as Tommy Thompson's special legal counsel, Simonson was corporate secretary and counsel for Amtrak (which, as most of us know, is not exactly a haven for overachievers).

POGO argues that Simonson is yet another Michael Brown, and isn't up to the job of running Project BioShield. I tend to agree, not least because POGO offers compelling evidence:

Michael Greenberger, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security, told CQ, "...the whole vaccine program is floundering in the absence of any sophisticated medical and scientific leadership." An anonymous industry official also said of Simonson, "He doesn't understand product development cycles [or] product risk. When he's making decisions, it's based on information he's getting from third parties, but he's not independently able to validate if what he's doing is right."
Regardless of who runs Project BioShield, though, it's a dubious undertaking. Just as the best way to prepare for suicide hijackings is to prepare for ordinary hijackings, effective bioterror response depends on having a well-funded, functional public-health system. And as I've noted elsewhere, hysteria over biodefense diverts attention and money from the areas where it's more urgently needed:
Local and state health officials say their underfunded agencies, which focus mostly on caring for the poor, have received inadequate federal funds and guidance on what the states should address in their bioterrorism master plans.
As a worst-case scenario, one can imagine a feedback loop in which ignoring everyday health threats leads to a decrease in preparedness for bioterror attacks (and natural disease outbreaks) at the state and local level, while the evidence of decreased preparedness leads to more spending on questionable biodefense strategies at the federal level.

In this scenario, the actual public-health problems we face - such as understaffed hospitals, overworked and undertrained ER nurses, a shortage of hospital beds and medical equipment - would be ignored in order to fund inefficient research into "magic bullet" solutions to biological warfare agents (the benefits of which may, or may not, trickle down to the general public).

For most of us, this trade-off is likely to be a bad one. My guess is that in an actual emergency, a great many people in this country would have access neither to ordinary medical attention, nor to any new medicines created under the aegis of Project BioShield.

Ultimately, when assessing a program instituted or infiltrated by BushCo, the important question to ask is whether it's supposed to function in the commonly accepted sense - that is, as an obligation under the social contract - or whether it's supposed to serve very, very narrow financial or ideological interests. When some unqualified crony is put in charge of an agency, it indicates a level of corruption that can't be addressed simply by replacing that crony. People who find it profitable to put malleable hacks in positions of authority will just as cheerfully drive away, isolate, underfund, or undercut competent replacements.

POGO concludes:
As a recent study shows, careerists are superior to political appointees at getting results.
Not necessarily. It depends on the results you're after.

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