During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said his administration would "expand the U.S. government's bioforensics program for tracking the source of any biological weapon so that the U.S. will be able to rapidly identify any adversary who uses a biological weapon and respond surely and swiftly."
First, some background on bioforensics. It means the use of sophisticated scientific techniques to identify a country, group or individual responsible for the use of a biological weapon in order to pursue legal prosecution or military retaliation.
The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, part of the Department Homeland Security, includes the National Bioforensic Analysis Center. Construction was recently completed on a $143 million laboratory facility at Fort Detrick, Md.
The administration has done at least two additional things to advance bioforensics. One is to give bioforensics a prominent mention in the National Security Council's November 2009 paper, "National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats."
The second is to establish a Task Force on Microbial Forensics under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council. It is jointly chaired by the CIA, the FBI and Homeland Security.
"The Obama administration has made significant progress in developing, first, a governmentwide research and development strategy for microbial forensics, and second, a coherent interagency process for identifying the perpetrators of a biological weapons attack that incorporates microbial forensic evidence, along with intelligence and other sources of information," said Jonathan B. Tucker, a senior fellow with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.
Tucker added, however, that the effort is still "embryonic, and there is much room for improvement."
In particular, "the big test will be the fiscal year 2011 request," said Raphael Della Ratta, project manager with the Partnership for Global Security. That request will be made public in a matter of weeks.
We'll see how the funding stream plays out for fiscal year 2011, but for now we'll rate this promise In the Works.