Congress Has More Questions About NSABB's H5N1 Decision

Round two. Sensenbrenner wants to know more about the government's response to H5N1 research controversy.

U.S. House of Representatives

A senior Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives is asking more questions about how the U.S. government reviewed two controversial H5N1 avian influenza studies, and how it wrote a new policy for reviewing taxpayer-funded studies that might be used for good and evil.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) today sent a letter to Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), asking him to clarify how the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) reached its recent decision to recommend publication of the two studies after recommending against publication late last year. The letter also asks for more information on which government officials were involved in new rules for reviewing taxpayer-funded research that might be "dual-use research of concern" (DURC).

"It appears that the Administration was unprepared for the possibility that the NSABB might recommend against publication, and then, caught on its heels, sought to avoid the recommendation," Sensenbrenner wrote. "If true, this response does little to prepare the United States government to better handle similar issues in the future. I am asking the NIH to clarify exactly where the new government policy guidelines came from and how they will be implemented."

Sensenbrenner's letter appears to have been prompted, in part, by complaints about the NSABB process outlined in a letter to NIH officials written earlier this month by one member of the panel, Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

This isn't Sensennbrenner's first letter on the topic. On 1 March, the lawmaker—a former head of the House committees on science and the judiciary, and currently vice chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology—wrote to White House science adviser John Holdren, asking similar questions about how the Obama Administration has handled the H5N1 controversy. Holdren replied on 9 April.

The letter comes as a Senate panel prepares for a hearing later this week on how the U.S. government is handling biological research that could have dual use.