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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The U.S. program responsible for detecting and responding to threats of bioterrorism lacks detection equipment in more than half the country and was unable to spot multiple biological agents known as possible threats, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general said in a report released Thursday.

Why it matters: If the country does not improve the program, called BioWatch, the "United States’ ability to prepare, detect, and respond to a potential bioterrorism attack is impeded, which could result in significant loss of human life," the IG said.

Context: The BioWatch Program was formed under the George W. Bush administration in 2003 after numerous anthrax attacks against news media offices and members of Congress killed five people and infected several others in 2001.

  • BioWatch claims to operate a nationwide aerosol detection system, but the IG said it "does not operate a nationwide early warning system."

The big picture: The IG's audit of the program found it had equipment to detect bioterrorism agents in 22 of 50 states, leaving 56% of the U.S. without coverage.

  • The IG also said BioWatch only monitors 6 of 14 biological agents known to be threats because it has not updated its detection capabilities.
  • BioWatch left equipment exposed and unguarded at 34 of 35 detection sites across the country, meaning the tools could be disarmed in a security breach.

What they're saying: "Until [Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office] addresses these information sharing weaknesses, the Nation’s readiness to respond to a potential bioterrorism attack that may result in significant loss of life is at risk," the IG office said.

  • "BioWatch’s limited footprint puts the Nation at a disadvantage to timely identify and respond to potential biological attacks."

Go deeper

Inspector general: Ethics questions prompted criminal referral involving Elaine Chao

Photo: Melissa Lyttle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Transportation Department's deputy inspector general said a "formal investigation into potential misuses of [former Secretary Elaine Chao's] position was warranted," after finding evidence of possible ethics violations, according to a report made public on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The report reveals that the IG last December asked the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to consider a criminal investigation into Chao's actions, citing possible ethical or administrative concerns. Both declined to investigate.

Biden announces small business tax credits for vaccine PTO

Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden on Wednesday will call on all employers to provide employees paid time off to get vaccinated or to recover from any side effects, and he'll include a paid tax credit for small businesses to do so, administration officials said.

Why it matters: The administration sees places of work as highly influential in making shots more convenient for working adults who are in high-risk industries.

White House unveils plans for high-profile climate summit

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration offered new details this morning about the big, virtual climate summit Thursday and Friday and signaled they expect new emissions reduction and climate finance commitments from multiple countries.

Driving the news: The administration said 40 heads of state would attend, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.