Federal agencies

High-containment labs need oversight, GAO says

Washington – No federal entity is responsible for strategic planning and oversight of high-containment laboratories, the Government Accountability Office concludes in a new report.

Released July 16 in light of recent biosafety lapses at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratories, the report states that oversight of these laboratories is fragmented and self-policing.

The number of high-containment labs has increased since the 1990s. However, the expansion was based not on a government-wide coordinated strategy, but on individual agencies’ missions and available congressionally approved funding, according to the report.

CDC announced on July 11 that it stopped shipment of high-hazard biological materials – pending review from an advisory committee – after incidents of anthrax exposure and shipment of bird flu that left lab workers potentially exposed.

According to the GAO report, the CDC incident and the risks of biosecurity highlight the need for a national strategy to evaluate the requirements for high-containment labs, set and maintain national standards for construction and operation, and maintain a national strategy for lab oversight.

GAO previously found a lack of national standards for designing, constructing, commissioning and operating high-containment labs.