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Industry Role in Bioterrorism Response Planning Must be Open to the Public

Nov. 8, 2001

Industry Role in Bioterrorism Response Planning Must be Open to the Public

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A pharmaceutical industry task force established at the behest of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson to develop government responses to bioterrorism violates a federal law on the transparency of decision-making committees, Public Citizen said in a letter delivered today to Thompson.

The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requires that committees involving outside experts that directly shape government decisions have a balanced membership and clearly defined purpose, and that their meetings be open to the public. The Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America Emergency Preparedness Task Force, appointed in the wake of the terrorist attacks, is violating this law, Public Citizen said.

“We understand that HHS is taking on the difficult job of determining how to protect our nation from the threat of bioterrorism,” director of Public Citizen?s Health Research Group, Dr. Sidney Wolfe wrote in the letter. “At the same time, the rule of law must be observed. . . . The pharmaceutical executives who make up the Task Force plainly have expertise, but they also have powerful economic self-interests in shaping government policy on this topic.”

Representatives of Abbott Laboratories, American Home Products, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer and Pharmacia are part of the task force, which is headed by Richard Markham of Aventis. In recent weeks, pharmaceutical company executives have been meeting regularly with Bush Cabinet members. But under the law, a federal agency that uses such an advisory committee must file a charter with the agency and appropriate members of Congress. The charter must set forth the committee?s objectives, scope of activities, the time it will take to carry out its purposes and a description of its duties. Notices of meetings must be published in the Federal Register, and meetings must be open to the public with an opportunity for public participation. None of this has been done.