Anthrax Alert System at Risk as Cost Estimate Hits $5.7 Billion
Funding for BioWatch, an early warning system to detect deadly pathogens in 30 U.S. cities, may be in jeopardy after cost estimates surged to $5.7 billion, six times the initial assessment.
The Department of Homeland Security wants to open bidding before October on the next phase of the program, which monitors the air for pathogens such as anthrax and smallpox.
The five-year contract for as much as $3.1 billion would upgrade the system to automatically transmit collected data to laboratories, eliminating the present manual handling.
BioWatch has suffered cost overruns and delays since then-President George W. Bush, prompted by the post-Sept. 11, 2001, anthrax attacks, started it in 2003. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), chairman of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over BioWatch, says he wants assurances that costs are under control and has asked the Government Accountability Office to analyze the proposed spending.
“The program could find itself in danger of being cut back or completely scrapped if lawmakers determine that it’s becoming a major and costly acquisition failure,” Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a partner with Monument Policy Group, a Washington-based consulting firm, said in a telephone interview. Herrera-Flanigan was staff director for the House Homeland Security Committee from 2005 through 2008.