Sanctioned biolabs’ names still kept secret despite White House memo

Despite a recent White House directive calling for greater public accountability and transparency about incidents at labs working with potential bioterror pathogens, federal regulators this week continued to refuse to release key information about labs that have faced sanctions.

For the past year, regulators from the Federal Select Agent Program have refused USA TODAY’s requests for the names of more than 100 U.S. labs that have faced enforcement actions for serious biosafety violations while working with pathogens such as those that cause anthrax, botulism, Ebola and the plague.

The lab oversight program is jointly operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and public revelations about a series of high-profile accidents at labs operated by the CDC, the U.S. Army and other federal agencies have drawn international concern and Congressional scrutiny.

The CDC and USDA this week sent letters to USA TODAY continuing their refusal to answer most of the news organization’s questions about the labs that have the nation’s worst regulatory histories while working with some of the world’s most deadly viruses, bacteria and toxins.

“The CDC response makes a mockery of the White House biosecurity memo calling for ‘Transparency, swift incident reporting and accountability to the public,’ ” said Richard Ebright, a biosafety expert from Rutgers University in New Jersey who testified before Congress last year.

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