President Bush is making homeland security a focus this week around the release of a potentially critical report on the Sept. 11 attacks.
On Wednesday in the Rose Garden, Mr. Bush signs a bill to develop and stockpile vaccines and other antidotes to biological and chemical weapons.
The legislation provides the drug industry with incentives to research and develop bioterrorism countermeasures, speeds up the approval process of antidotes and, in an emergency, allows the government to distribute certain treatments before the Food and Drug Administration has approved them.
On Thursday, Mr. Bush is to sign the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, giving qualified off-duty and retired law enforcement officers the ability to carry their concealed firearms nationwide.
That same dayreleases its report saying the U.S. intelligence community missed the significance of "telltale indicators" of impending terrorist attacks, partly because of its piecemeal approach to intelligence analysis.
Later on Thursday, Mr. Bush travels to Illinois to tour the Northeastern Illinois Public Training Academy in Glenview, Ill., and give a speech on homeland security.
Mr. Bush told supporters in St. Charles, Mo., Tuesday night that fighting enemies abroad is the best way to prevent another attack on U.S. soil.
"In this big, sweet country of ours, there's no such thing as perfect security," Mr. Bush said. "The threats to this homeland are real. We know that the terrorists want to strike the United States again. They want to disrupt our way of life, or cause panic or great fear."
He said his administration has reorganized the government to increase communication among federal, state and local governments. The FBI also has changed its mission to make sure that counterterrorism is the top priority, he said.
According to a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 71 percent of Americans think the government is doing a "fairly well" or "very well" at protecting the nation against another terrorist attack. But the poll also said that a majority believe terrorists have at least the same ability to strike inside the United States as they did on Sept. 11, 2001.
U.S. officials are hoping that Project BioShield, which Mr. Bush is signing into law, will yield enough new-generation anthrax vaccine to dose 25 million people. Federal health officials also hope that the $5.6 billion program will provide antidotes for botulism and anthrax, a safer smallpox vaccine and a long-awaited children's version of an anti-radiation pill.
The program passed the House on a 414-2 vote and the Senate 99-0.
"Modern terrorist threats come not just from explosions, but also from silent killers such has deadly germs and chemical agents," Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., an author of the bill, said in a statement released Tuesday night. "Project BioShield creates a lifesaving partnership between our government and the private sector to develop the vaccines needed to project our citizens from this bioterrorism. This bill could save millions of lives."
Congress was one of the targets of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, in which five people died and 17 others were sickened. No arrests have been made in those murders, but the investigation continues — FBI agents searched the Army'sat Fort Detrick this week.
Anthrax is a potentially deadly disease caused by a bacteria carried by livestock. It kills about one in five people who contract the disease in their skin. Left untreated, some 80 percent of people who get the inhalation version of anthrax die.
People who work with livestock have been vaccinated for anthrax, and the U.S. military administers the vaccine to personnel in high-risk areas.
The government hopes to sign contracts by late August to produce a stockpile of 75 million doses of a new-generation anthrax vaccine, said Dr. Philip Russell of the Health and Human Services Department.
At three shots apiece — half of today's requirement — that would cover 25 million people. HHS wants enough vaccine to inoculate emergency-response workers, if they want it, and be able to deal with a major anthrax attack on a city.
Project BioShield doesn't mean the government will make these products. Instead, it offers pharmaceutical companies a guaranteed buyer — an incentive the industry has long sought before spending millions in research to produce terrorism countermeasures. Unless the federal government buys these products, proponents argue, the market will be too small to justify the research costs.
The legislation also would accelerate the approval process for the new products and allow more widespread distribution of experimental medications during a terrorist attack. If the private sector leaves a gap, the government would be allowed to operate emergency programs to research and produce vaccines.
Federal health officials would be able to stockpile whatever drugs are deemed necessary, although products are still undergoing research and testing, and purchase is contingent upon data showing they'll work.
States already are beginning to, under a program that aims to have stocks in every state within two years. Among the first recipients of the "chem-packs" are facilities in Boston and New York, sites of the political conventions this summer.
HHS also wants to bolster the very small supply of botulinum antitoxin. The botulinum toxin is the most poisonous found naturally on Earth, and experts fear a deliberate contamination of the food supply. The government is working with Canada's Cangene to produce enough antitoxin, from the blood of vaccinated horses, to treat tens of thousands of people, Russell said.
Scientists are also looking for medications that could neutralize anthrax toxin. If antibiotics don't stem the infection early enough, anthrax bacteria produce a deadly toxin.
BioShield also should fund purchase of potassium iodide for children, because the pills that protect against thyroid cancer from radiation exposure now are formulated for adults. The government is also seeking new-generation smallpox vaccines that are safer than today's version, which can cause severe, even life-threatening side effects in some people.