Sept. 18 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump authorized Tuesday a new national strategy to combat biological threats.
The strategy establishes a new cabinet-level Biodefense Steering Committee tasked with defending the United States against biological threats by coordinating the efforts of 15 government agencies and the intelligence community, senior administrative officials said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon.
"For the first time, the Government will be comprehensively evaluating biodefense needs and monitoring implementation of the National Biodefense Strategy on an ongoing basis," a White House statement said.
A 2017 biodefense study found it was a top priority, but it wasn't clear who was in charge of responding.
"Lines of authority across the interagency for responding to bioterrorism are ill-defined at best, and centralized leadership and coordinating authority is not firmly in place," author John Foley said.
The new strategy memorandum names Secretary Alex Azar of Department of Health and Human Services as the federal lead for biodefense, but the Department of Homeland Security's role in biodefense efforts will not be downgraded, senior officials said.
"This annual process will ensure that the Administration stays nimble and can counter the rapidly changing landscape of biological threats," the White House statement said.
The strategy went into effect Tuesday morning when Trump signed the Biodefense National Security Presidential Memorandum at the White House in a closed-door ceremony.
"Today, I have taken action to better protect the American people by releasing a National Biodefense Strategy and signing a National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) that will strengthen our Nations defenses against biological threats to health and safety," Trump's statement said. "The implementation of these actions will promote a more efficient, coordinated, and accountable biodefense enterprise. Taken together, they represent a new direction in the Nations defense against biological threats."
Biological threats have no borders and "require a deliberate and systematic approach" to reduce risks, a White House statement said.
The strategy takes into account naturally occurring, intentional and accidental threats, officials said.
"The National Biodefense Strategy builds on lessons learned from past biological incidents, such as the 2001 anthrax attacks, the 2009 influenza pandemic, and the 2014 West Africa epidemic, to develop a more resilient and effective biodefense enterprise," Trump's statement said. "They have great potential to disrupt the economy, exact a toll on human life, and tear at the very fabric of society. My Administration will take steps to improve our understanding of the risks posed by biological threats and to respond to them effectively and efficiently."