06.25.07

Burr Welcomes GAO Report on Avian Flu

Investigation raises concerns about roles and responsibilities

U.S. Senator Richard Burr welcomed today the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on government efforts to prepare for an outbreak of avian influenza among our nation's birds. The GAO investigation highlights confusion regarding federal roles and responsibilities, which would complicate the response to an avian flu outbreak or a deliberate attack on our agriculture and food system.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made important strides in preparing for a disease outbreak among our nation's poultry. However, much work remains to be done. Our agriculture and food system remains susceptible to an agro-terror attack or an outbreak of infectious disease like the H5N1 avian flu virus. Such an outbreak would have devastating effects on our economy and would threaten human health.

"Our nation must work toward a more effective solution to this problem. The GAO report issued today identifies several steps our government can take to protect our animals and our people. The USDA must work more closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). All agencies should improve their efforts to coordinate and support States and businesses."

The GAO report raises several concerns that must be addressed; specifically:
• USDA is not planning for the lead coordinating role that DHS would assume if an outbreak among poultry occurred that is large enough to warrant various federal disaster declarations. GAO's prior work has shown that roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined and understood ahead of time to facilitate rapid and effective decision making.
• USDA response plans do not identify the resources required to carry out the response to a large outbreak.
• Some State plans lack important components that could facilitate a rapid response to an avian flu outbreak. States are typically the first to respond to such emergencies.