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GAO: DOD Needs Department-Wide Biodefense Strategy

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The Department of Defense and its medical intelligence arm need to formulate a comprehensive strategy for emerging biological threat preparedness and response, the Government Accountability Office said.

In a report published Thursday, the government audit agency urged DOD, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s National Center for Medical Intelligence and intelligence agencies to work together to strengthen biodefense programs.

While the DOD coordinates with internal and external parties to conduct research and development on vaccines, it is not fully aware of the range of its biodefense capabilities and gaps, GAO said.

The office found similar limitations in the NCMI, which lacked formal roles and responsibilities for disseminating medical intelligence.

GAO recommended that the Defense Department identify strengths and gaps, bolster strategy and provide guidance on prioritizing biological threat responses in joint exercises. The office also called for better coordination and sharing of confidential medical data, including conducting outreach activities and clarifying roles and relationships with customers.

The report warned of a “top national security threat” arising from attempts by foreign entities such as China to obtain and exploit U.S. genetic information from laboratories that process COVID-19 tests. GAO suggested that the DOD fortify its partnership with policymakers in the monitoring and warning of such security and health risks.