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A group of “select agents” including anthrax and Ebola used in hundreds of laboratories nationwide are overseen by a namesake program established 1996.

But the Select Agent Program has had trouble keeping up with the proliferation of high-containment labs, many of them private and which have opened since 2001. Mishaps have intermittently occurred with the most-dangerous germs – and the program needs better coordination between its key players, concludes a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released this week.

“Safety lapses continue to occur at some of the 276 laboratories in the United States that conduct research on select agents – such as Ebola virus or anthrax bacteria – that may cause serious or lethal infection in humans, animals, or plants, raising concerns about whether oversight is effective,” the report states.

Some of those lapses have been found only years afterward, according to Congressional testimony. For instance, last November the Department of Homeland Security discovered that a private laboratory had sent the dangerous agent ricin in an unauthorized capacity to a DHS training center multiple times dating back all the way to 2011. In another incident, decades-old vials of smallpox were found in an FDA laboratory storage room in July 2014.

The 11 suggestions in the GAO report mostly focus on the two main agencies, the CDC and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), to coordinate and oversee each other’s responsibilities more stringently.

Currently, the Program is not independent enough from the laboratories it’s watching to sufficiently review and critique their operations, they add.

The Select Agent Program has grown and morphed over two decades. The U.S.A. PATRIOT Act of 2001 and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 both greatly expanded the program’s scope in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. An executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 intended to optimize and focus on the highest-risk germs and substances; about half of the laboratories in the nation had registered with the new regulations as of last December, according to the GAO report.

The list of the select agents includes some of the most dangerous germs known to man, from the reconstructed forms of the 1918 influenza virus to various hemorrhagic viruses, and bubonic plague bacteria, but also includes both exotic and common bugs like botulism, brucellosis and African horse sickness virus, among dozens of others.

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