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Summary of Expert Insights for the US Department of Defense Biodefense Posture Review Meeting

Summary of Expert Insights for the US Department of Defense Biodefense Posture Review Meeting cover
Matthew Walsh, Lane Warmbrod, Anita Cicero, Gigi Kwik Gronvall
Date posted:
June 09, 2022
Publication type:
Meeting report
The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security
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On April 8, 2022, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health convened a virtual, not-for-attribution meeting to solicit expert input on the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) first Biodefense Posture Review (BPR). US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III called for a comprehensive BPR in a November 2021 memo concerning the DoD’s biodefense vision. In the memo, Secretary Austin points out the critical roles DoD played in the COVID-19 response, both within the Department and as part of the broader whole-of-government response. After-action reviews of these vital contributions highlighted areas for improvement in DoD’s preparedness and response. Therefore, Secretary Austin directed a whole-of-department review to efficiently and robustly assess the DoD’s capabilities and modernize its strategies for biodefense.

To gain insight from experts outside of the DoD, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security convened experts from various fields to provide comments on key areas related to biodefense. The aims of the meeting were to consider the United States’ biodefense posture regarding preventing, detecting, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from all types of biological incidents, including deliberate, natural, and accidental threats. Emphasis was placed on modernizing the DoD approach as well as collaboration with expertise outside of government, including academia and industry.

The meeting provided an opportunity to share insights about the current DoD biodefense posture with DoD officials who attended the meeting and who are leading the Department’s BPR. The meeting featured participation from members of government, academia, and industry, including subject matter experts from a range of disciplines and sectors: public health, health care, emergency management, defense, life sciences, veterinary science, agriculture, biotechnology, and the pharmaceutical industry. A list of meeting participants is included in Appendix A. During the meeting, participants shared resources that may be considered by drafters of the BPR, which are included in Appendix B.

During the meeting, a variety of participants discussed two recurring recommendations:

  1. The DoD, and the nation, would benefit from organizational realignment so that one person or office is responsible for biodefense policy across the DoD. This would help the Department to plan, build resources, and engage experts. Current efforts that shift responsibilities depending upon the nature of the health security crisis—for example if it is deliberate or natural, outside the contiguous US (OCONUS) or domestic—inhibit coherent planning.
  2. Disinformation is a threat in all aspects of the biodefense posture, ranging from operational restrictions to reputational impacts on the United States. The DoD should routinely consider how its statements and actions can both enable and counter disinformation and take steps to minimize impact. Also, DoD should consider using its communications abilities to dissuade other nations from developing biological weapons.

The meeting was supported by the Open Philanthropy Project. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security did not attempt to reach expert consensus on the topics discussed. This document is a synthesis of insights presented by one or more experts during the meeting.



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