Chemical and Biological Defense

Observations on Actions Taken to Protect Military Forces Gao ID: T-NSIAD-00-49 October 20, 1999

Problems during the Gulf War revealed that U.S. troops were poorly prepared for surviving and operating in a chemically or biologically contaminated environment. During the 1990s, GAO issued a host of reports and testimony on the ability of U.S. forces to survive and function on a contaminated battlefield. This testimony summarizes the findings of those reports and testimony and describes GAO's efforts to update the status of the Defense Department's actions.

GAO noted that: (1) between 1996 and 1999, GAO issued many reports and testimonies dealing with various aspects of U.S. forces' preparedness for surviving and operating on a chemically or biologically contaminated battlefield; (2) in 1996, GAO reported that DOD was slow in responding to lessons learned from the Gulf War; (3) problems encountered during the conflict demonstrated that chemical and biological defense equipment and training, and medical factors, needed more emphasis during peacetime in order to meet the demanding requirements of current U.S. strategy for the rapid deployment of forces based in the United States to regional conflicts overseas; (4) GAO concluded that despite increased DOD emphasis on chemical and biological defense, problems with equipment, training, medical care, and other areas persist and are likely to result in needless casualties and a degradation of U.S. war-fighting capability; (5) in 1997 and 1998, GAO issued reports and testimonies addressing more specific chemical and biological defense topics such as the protection of critical rear-area facilities, defenses against biological agents, and concerns specific to the Northeast Asian theater; (6) these efforts reported that many doctrinal and planning aspects of chemical and biological defense remained largely unaddressed and that biological agent vaccines were insufficient to protect the force; (7) in 1998 and 1999, GAO's work expanded to address topics such as DOD's coordination of chemical and biological research and development programs, its strategy for low-level exposures, and implementation of DOD's anthrax vaccine program; (8) GAO reported that that existing chemical and biological defense program coordinating mechanisms may not ensure that program gaps and opportunities for collaboration would be addressed, and that the program had not incorporated key Government Performance and Results Act's principles; (9) GAO also reported that DOD's anthrax vaccine program was being affected by the sole-source manufacturer's cash flow problems and the lack of studies on the safety and human efficacy of the vaccine; and (10) another anthrax-related product will be completed that will address the issues faced by DOD regarding the regimen, production capability, record keeping, adverse reactions, and educational efforts affecting DOD's anthrax vaccine program.

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