The Bush administration, continuing to disclose its proposed increases for selected programs before sending the 2005 budget to Congress on Monday, announced Thursday that it would seek $274 million next year to fight health threats, largely to deter bioterrorism.
That would be at least double this year’s spending.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said they would focus the funds on monitoring hospitals and clinics for unusual disease trends and drug use, inspecting imported foods and improving data sharing between branches of government.
“We’ll be able to get information from hospitals, pharmacists and clinics across America on a daily basis,” Thompson said. “It is vital that we detect, monitor and treat any disease outbreak as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Patients’ identities will remain protected, Thompson said, though public health officials will have access to information like patient records that have been off limits.
The $274 million would not all go toward combating bioterrorism. It would also be used to track avian influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome, West Nile virus, mad cow disease and other public health threats. Some of the money would be aimed at research and development of vaccines, including an augmented prevention and control effort against smallpox. Security patrols would be increased at airports and shipping docks.
Ridge said the 30 cities now being monitored for biological pathogens would be increased to more than 60 in 2005.
“Every day there become fewer gaps and weaknesses for terrorists to exploit,” Ridge said. “Early detection and early response are critical to saving lives in the event of a terrorist attack.”
The $274 million proposal includes $135 million for the Health and Human Services Department and $129 million for Homeland Security. The final $10 million would go to the Agriculture Department for its food, animal and plant inspections.
Homeland Security’s bio-surveillance budget would get a 135% increase from its $55-million 2004 allocation if Congress approves.