Friday, December 02, 2005

This (from AP) sounds like the backstory of a dystopian sci-fi novel, but it's real -- and it's just business as usual in the Republican-dominated federal government:

By creating a federal agency shielded from public scrutiny, some lawmakers think they can speed the development and testing of new drugs and vaccines needed to respond to a bioterrorist attack or super-flu pandemic.

The proposed Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency, or BARDA, would be exempt from long-standing open records and meetings laws that apply to most government departments, according to legislation approved Oct. 18 by the Senate health committee.

...The agency would be exempt from the Freedom of Information and Federal Advisory Committee acts, both considered crucial for monitoring government accountability.

"There is no other agency that I am aware of where the agency is totally exempt either from FOIA or FACA," said Pete Weitzel, coordinator of the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government....

OMB Watch has more details:

The legislation states that, "Information that relates to the activities, working groups, and advisory boards of the BARDA shall not be subject to disclosure" under FOIA "unless the Secretary [of HHS] or Director [of BARDA] determines that such disclosure would pose no threat to national security."

Neither the CIA nor the Defense Department has such an exemption....

The chief sponsor of the bill, GOP senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, says these provisions are necessary to protect national security. But the Freedom of Information Act

already includes an exemption for national security information, as well as eight other exemptions ranging from privacy issues to confidential business information and law enforcement investigations....

And it gets worse:

... the law prohibits any challenges of determinations by the Director of BARDA or Secretary of HHS, stating that the determination of the Director or Secretary with regards to the decision to withhold information "shall not be subject to judicial review."

...The Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act also exempts BARDA from important parts of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires public disclosure of advice given to the executive branch by advisory committees, task forces, boards and commissions.

Holy Dick Cheney!

Another provision has nothing to do with secrecy, but is quite Bushist -- it's a provision

[g]iving BARDA the authority to sign exclusive contracts with drug manufacturers and forbidding the agency from purchasing generic versions of these drugs or vaccines.

Amazing -- it's practically the entire Bushist governing philosophy wrapped up in one bill. Let's hope this never passes.

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