Three Reasons Congress Should Fund Biodefense

Cutting the Chemical Biological Defense Program would be penny-wise and pound-foolish
January 24th 2023

The Chemical Biological Defense Program Protects Americans in a Changing Threat Landscape

Now that Republicans control the House of Representatives, policymakers are considering which programs could face potential spending cuts as both parties negotiate over the debt ceiling and the annual appropriations process.

The Biden administration has signaled in multiple strategy documents that it needs more resources to increase the country’s preparedness for biological threats. Within the Department of Defense (DoD), the Chemical Biological Defense Program (CBDP) is the key institutional infrastructure that counters chemical and biological threats, and works with the private sector to develop and acquire bio-defensive capabilities in advance.

But, as Roll Call reported earlier this month, Congress’ latest spending bill calls for a $126 million reduction in CBDP appropriations, despite DoD requesting an increase in multi-year funding to expand and modernize its biodefense capabilities.

The DoD needs to be able to address the increasing risk of engineered biological weapons. Congressional cuts to CBDP’s funding would be a penny-wise but pound-foolish approach to American biodefense. As evident in the $16 trillion cost of COVID-19 damages, penny-pinching on biological defense can have massive long-term costs. 

1. CBDP invests in early warning systems to deter biological threats

  • CBDP provides private sector biotechnology that can aid in detection, characterization, and attribution of all types of biological threats. 
  • CBDP can support Defense Health Affairs’ biosurveillance push by investing in technology to test key environments, especially regions of interest for Russia and China, for biological weapon agents, such as pathogen-agnostic sequencing of wastewater.

2. CBDP can acquire and drive the development of medical countermeasures to protect Americans

  • CBDP moves the DoD towards pathogen-agnostic or broad-spectrum therapeutics that can be used for both prevention and treatment and away from dependence on the “One-Drug-for-One-Bug” paradigm.  
  • CBDP acquires diagnostics like rapid tests and wearables to ensure the military can react to accidental, engineered, and naturally occurring biological threats.

3. CBDP partnerships drive private innovation in non-pharmaceutical interventions

  • CBDP builds sustainable public-private partnerships that develop environmental tools like biological agent decontamination and sterilization. These non-pharmaceutical capabilities better equip DoD to address infectious threats in the built environment. 
  • CBDP optimizes efforts to counter unknown biological threats with investment in next-generation respiratory and ocular protection.

CBDP’s unique mission within DoD to counter biological threats depends on its ability to respond to an evolving biological threat landscape. A significant reduction in its budget would compromise the DoD’s early warning efforts, medical countermeasure development, and ability to operate in contaminated environments.