Tech bill to bypass bureaucracy

Science and Technology Emergency Mobilization Act

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Addressing biotechnology industry officials at a first-of-its-kind meeting on homeland security, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pledged that government would work to better use their companies' tools and expertise in the war against terrorism through recently proposed legislation.

Last month, Wyden and co-sponsor Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) introduced a bill establishing a volunteer high-tech corps that could be mobilized quickly in case of a terrorist attack or other emergency.

Speaking to a group of about 300 attendees April 30, Wyden said a biotechnology conference on homeland security several years ago would have been "fairly sedate, and suffice it to say, you wouldn't have a wall-to-wall packed gathering that we have today."

"I think that reflects what is really going on in this country, and that is a nationwide mobilization to deal with terrorism with those of you in technology on the front lines with respect to this overall effort," he said. "And it seems to me the government at a minimum has got to be a better partner as we play this critical role in the days ahead."

Instead of companies going through a "bureaucratic marathon" and spending months just waiting to get their technologies "to the top of somebody's inbox," Wyden said his bill would allow biotechnology companies to bring new products to a central clearinghouse as well as enable federal agencies to fill a specific need.

"I think it is just absolutely bizarre even by Beltway standards to send biotechnology entrepreneurs out traipsing all over government trying to find out in this sort of strewn-across-Washington-type approach where they ought to go in order to bring sensible path-breaking ideas," he said.

The bill also would create a test bed to "promptly and thoroughly and objectively" evaluate ideas at the federal level, he said, adding that investment in basic research and science also needs to be beefed up.

He also said the leadership vacancies in the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention need to be filled.

"My friends, it is very, very hard to win a war when you have virtually no generals on deck," Wyden said. "If we're going to spend the billions and billions of dollars that are going to be allocated for this war against terrorism, particularly bioterrorism, I think you got to have the key people in place at these agencies."

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (, the industry's trade group, organized the one-day conference in Arlington, Va., which brought together industry representatives with officials from the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. The conference mostly centered on the role of federal agencies and their procurement practices.

"While the DOD had been able to integrate chemistry and physics and engineering disciplines into the defense science base, they had not been able to integrate biology, particularly biotechnology, recognizing that the U.S. biotech industry is by far the largest and most advanced in development in the world and therefore could convey a strategic advantage," said Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, regarding the conference's genesis.


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