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December 11, 2019

Chairwoman Johnson Urges Department of Homeland Security to Reassess BioDetection 21 Program

(Washington, DC) – Today, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Acting Assistant Secretary Gary Rasicot urging him to address concerns pertaining to the deployment of a new biodetection system called BioDetection 21 (BD21).

BioWatch is the nation’s existing biodetection program that provides early warning of a bioterrorist attack. Since the program’s creation, BioWatch has cost $1.6 billion in taxpayer funds. However, within a decade of its implementation, concerns arose regarding the potential for false positives and the reliability of BioWatch technology. In response to those criticisms, DHS’s CWMD office announced in 2018 that it would replace BioWatch by 2025 with BioDetection 21. Though BD21 is currently in the early stages of the acquisition process, concerns have surfaced in regard to the feasibility of the program’s core technologies and the extent to which they can successfully operate within the nation’s broader biodetection framework.

“Biological threats are among the most serious dangers facing the United States, and biodetection presents an exceptionally complex set of technological and operational difficulties,” said Chairwoman Johnson in the letter. “The Committee supports CWMD’s commitment to enhanced biodetection capabilities in order to keep the American people safe. But these shared goals do not mean that serious concerns regarding BD21 can be overlooked. The gravity of the biological threat, and the human and economic consequences of failure, compel the Committee to closely scrutinize the program’s implementation.”

A full copy of the letter can be found here.