The Worst-Case Scenario

Is America Ready For A Nuclear Terrorist Attack?

The chairman of the House committee overseeing Project Bioshield — the government's project to create drugs to respond to possible terrorist attacks — wants the program's director taken off the project.

Rep. Tom Davis, R.-Va., tells 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley that Assistant Secretary Stewart Simonson, a political appointee who is in charge of Project Bioshield at the Department of Health and Human Services, shows the same kind of "arrogance" and "lack of experience" as former FEMA director Michael Brown.

Davis talks to Bradley about a possible radiation sickness drug the Pentagon endorses and deems worth developing, but that critics say Simonson has now slow tracked, this Sunday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Bioshield was created to prepare the United States for terrorism by developing and stockpiling drugs to treat the effects of chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.

"I would transfer (Simonson) out of (Bioshield). I wouldn't have him handling this program," Davis tells Bradley. "This is a serious job at this point and I think we need to have a professional filling it, not political appointees."

Davis likens Simonson, a lawyer who previously worked at Amtrak, the national railroad, to Brown.

"I think we're seeing the same kind of issues (with Simonson). Michael Brown had been before our committee prior to Katrina and exhibited the same kind of arrogance, a lack of expertise," says Davis. "To date, (Simonson) has been singularly unimpressive in this particular area."

The area Davis refers to is a project to produce a treatment for acute radiation sickness. Estimates for the doses necessary to prepare U.S. cities for a nuclear terrorist attack range as high as 10 million. Simonson has committed to purchasing just 100,000.

Simonson declined to be interviewed, but his deputy, William Raub, was made available. He tells Bradley that Simonson's former job at Amtrak entailed planning for terrorist attacks against the rail system. Raub says that Simonson has "brought a considerable background and expertise … and he's provided strong leadership."

He also says there's a reason Health and Human Services has so far committed to buying only 100,000 doses of a treatment for acute radiation syndrome.

"This is the place to start and we don't see 100,000 (doses) as the end, we see 100,000 as the beginning," says Raub. "First off, we need agents that we can be sure will work."

That undermines what Bioshield was intended to do, says Bob Marsella, the vice president of Hollis-Eden, a small biotech company in San Diego.

"They're supposed to create a market, not a starting point," he says. "If they were going to buy tanks for the military, would they buy one tank?"

The Pentagon expressed keen interest in the company's drug, Neumune, as a possible treatment for radiation sickness. Hollis-Eden attracted investors who saw an opportunity in Project Bioshield's nearly $6 billion budget. The company has spent $100 million to develop the drug, hoping to win a government contract.

Marsella says that Bioshield 's commitment to only 100,000 doses of a drug is an unacceptable stance from their business standpoint. "If we were told four years ago … they were only going to buy 100,000 doses, we would have never developed this drug."

If there is an attack and the government has only stockpiled 100,000 doses of a radiation drug, Raub says area hospitals will be able to treat people. Experts have told 60 Minutes

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More from 60 Minutes