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Science Chief Named at Homeland Security

7 May 2009 10:16 am
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The Obama Administration has nominated a prominent biosecurity expert to be the under secretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Tara O’Toole is a physician who currently leads the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She served in the Department of Energy from 1993 to 1997 as assistant secretary for environment, health and safety.

O’Toole has been instrumental in drawing the attention of Congress and the government to the threat of bioterrorism. If confirmed, she will manage a budget of nearly $1 billion—most of which is currently dedicated to technology development. One area to watch: how she steers BioWatch—a DHS program to develop and deploy environmental sensors in cities to get early warning of an aerosolized bioterror attack. O’Toole has been critical of DHS’s plans under the Bush Administration to continue making investments into the program to achieve quicker detection, arguing that this would not necessary translate into an effective emergency response by public health officials.

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