Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) spent Wednesday afternoon touring Fort Detrick in light of concerns about the Department of Defense withholding funding from two military laboratories.
Trone, along with two other Maryland congressmen and Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Ben Cardin (D), sent a letter to the defense secretary two weeks ago questioning the decision to withhold approximately $104 million from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick and the U.S. Army Medical Institute of Chemical Defense at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Since sending the letter, Cardin, Van Hollen and now Trone have toured Fort Detrick to see the work done at USAMRIID. Trone said Wednesday that he decided to tour the laboratory to learn what he and other members of Congress can do to help support the operation.
“And the key is we’ve got a phenomenally, highly trained, highly qualified [workforce] with unique skill sets — phenomenally unique skill sets — and we’re living in a time of great uncertainty, a time of great potential danger in the form of chemical weapons, biological weapons, and that’s exactly what USAMRIID and the chemical defense part of that over at Aberdeen deal with,” Trone said.
As part of the tour, Trone walked through what will be the new building for USAMRIID, which will house biosafety level 3 and biosafety 4 level laboratories.
“It’s spectacular,” he said. “I mean, the technology is unbelievable.”
The new USAMRIID building will be one of the largest Defense Department-run laboratories, Trone said.
The mission of the members of Congress should be how to keep the people in their jobs at USAMRIID and USAMRICD, he said. Keeping the workforce at full capacity will help the country respond to any potential biological or chemical threats, such as Ebola, Zika or anthrax.
“We want to make sure we keep that capability here at Fort Detrick, we keep that capability in Aberdeen and we protect America,” Trone said.
The congressman referenced the new coronavirus, which was first discovered in Wuhan, China, as a reason for the laboratories to be funded and staffed.
He was hopeful about the release of the funding, saying that there are 28 projects between USAMRIID and USAMRICD that need the funding.
The Department of Defense has three criteria that the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, which oversees USAMRIID and USAMRICD, must meet before the funds will be released.
Those conditions include financial accountability and for USAMRIID, which is currently at partial operations, to be at full operations.
USAMRIID has been working at partial operations since November, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted a cease and desist order from July.
The CDC sent USAMRIID the cease and desist order after inspections found biosafety lapses.
Due to that shutdown, and one in May 2018 from flooding, USAMRIID workers could not complete projects for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program. Part of the three conditions includes making a traceability plan so that the Chemical and Biological Defense Program does not pay for the same work twice. A USAMRDC spokeswoman has said that leadership felt they met all three conditions.