These have been dark days and months at Fort Detrick, home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and the engine of prosperity for Frederick County and the entire region.
Since the Centers for Disease Control suspended work at the institute last summer, the facility seems to have lurched from one crisis to another. Limited work finally resumed at the labs in November, but earlier this month, we learned that the Department of Defense was withholding more than $100 million from programs at USAMRIID and Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Last week, the department said that the funding will be withheld until three conditions are met, including USAMRIID regaining full operational status, which has not happened since the CDC shutdown.
Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation are alarmed by the holdup, and have hinted that something nefarious may be happening with the money.
In a letter to constituents on the issue, Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) asserted that “the DOD has attempted to make drastic programmatic changes to the laboratories without consulting Congress.”
Trone, who visited USAMRIID this past Wednesday, pledged to fight any attempt by the Defense Department to “strip down” the Fort Detrick and Aberdeen labs.
This all comes at a terrible time in the life of the nation and indeed the world. The new coronavirus, which originated in China, has infected and killed thousands of people in the last month.
This is exactly the kind of disease threat that the Detrick lab was created to address, study and hopefully thwart.
It is clear that some employees of the institute had fallen into some bad habits, based on the report from the CDC. Leadership on post has said their goal is to bring the lab back into compliance with rules and regulations, and get it fully operational again.
However, Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, a Defense spokesman, gave a statement to The News-Post saying: “To date ... some of the research projects impacted by the CDC shutdown have not yet been completed.”
The department wants to see all of that work finished before moving forward.
The leadership at USAMRIID says it has complied with the requirements of the Defense Department and now needs the allocated money to be released.
“Without the allocated funding, [U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command] cannot sustain current capabilities …” a spokeswoman said in the email. “The long-term degradation or loss of capability from two of the premier DOD research laboratories directly impacts the DOD and Nation’s ability to timely respond to chemical, infectious disease and other medical based threats to national security.”
Fort Detrick is important to our local economy, and USAMRIID is of paramount importance to the safety of our nation and the fate of the world.
Today it is the coronavirus, which is striking fear in the hearts of people everywhere. We do not know where the next challenge will come from, but we do know that it is coming. Our friends and neighbors in the nation’s service at the fort or working for the many contractors supporting its efforts are on the front lines of the struggle to keep us safe from biological attack.
The Army institutes need to be fully funded and free to resume work on their vital mission. We expect our congressional delegation to continue pressing for the money, and to bring this episode to a satisfactory conclusion.