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The inspector general also found that the program’s manager did not provide an outside contractor with “adequate guidance, requirements input or data sources to deliver a fully functional system.” This could result in higher costs and program delays.

Mr. Dingell’s letter expressed exasperation with Mr. Smith, the acting director of the biosurveillance program, for refusing to answer questions about a multi-million dollar contract with Science Applications International Corporation to create an information-sharing network for agencies to access.

“Sounds like a bigger part of a bigger picture of bureaucratic failure,” said Steve Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “There are some concrete things that need to be fixed and they are not getting done.”

Dr. Tara O’Toole, chief executive officer of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said the public health community has long been concerned about the biosurveillance program.

“The problem is there is no strategy,” said Dr. O’Toole, comparing the program to building without a blueprint or plan.

“They wanted to build a national hurricane watch for public health emergencies,” she said. “But just as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, just watching the hurricane coming is not enough.”

If the first responders don’t know how to handle a public health crisis like an anthrax outbreak or a small pox attack, she said, then an alert system would not have much impact in terms of saving lives.

The surveillance system is not set up to help managers do something in response, Dr. O’Toole said. Part of the problem with the biosurveillance program is no one is really sure what it is supposed to do, she said.

That is exactly why the House Committee on Energy and Commerce is investigating the program.