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Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz Joint Press Conference with the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
April 28, 2004
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz Joint Press Conference with the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security

(Also participating Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson; Department of Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge.)

 

             Thompson:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s a real honor for me today to have two outstanding members of the administration here to give public testimonials about what we have done but, more importantly, what we’re going to continue to do for America, to protect America.  It is really a distinct honor to have Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge who has been a friend of mine for a long time and I’m just delighted at the job he’s doing and the fact that he’s here, along with outstanding Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. 

 

And we also have just a huge amount of distinguished scientists and other people representing several departments:  EPA, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense and my own Department of Health and Human Services.

 

But we’re here today to discuss an issue of the highest importance and that, of course, is protecting our great country from the threats of bioterrorism.  As you all know, our highest priority is to safeguard the American people.  This is a responsibility that President Bush takes extremely seriously and he wants us to make sure that we are prepared and he has delegated that responsibility to us.  And I know this is a responsibility that each of us up on the stage as well as those in the room take very seriously, as well. 

 

And one of the fundamental requirements of a good plan of action for biodefense preparedness is that we in the federal government start coordinating closer with one another and we’ve done a good job so far, but you haven’t seen anything yet.  And we have a good plan in place to be able to develop that cooperation and collaboration even more in the future. 

 

Our government is working together in critical ways.  What you see before you today is a great example of that collaboration that goes on among the departments every single day.  So with that said, I’m pleased to introduce now Secretary Tom Ridge, my friend and colleague.  Secretary Ridge is committed to protecting our nation and he’s going to give us an overview of our biopreparedness plans and he’s doing, I believe, just a tremendous job. 

 

Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being here. 

 

Ridge:  Thank you.  Thank you, Tommy.  I thank the governor, Paul, for joining me this morning.  Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a privilege to be here with my colleagues in public service in support of this initiative and to announce the initiatives spearheaded by the president to strengthen our nation’s defenses against a bioterrorism attack.  The potential catastrophic consequences that the use of a biological weapon could have on our country obviously makes it a critical vital area of homeland security efforts, as well as homeland security concerns.  And that is why in the immediate aftermath of September 11th and every day since, we have taken a very aggressive approach to build defenses against a biological threat, while we work to prevent one from ever occurring. 

 

With today’s announcement, the president has put forward a new initiative that will fully integrate our current bioterrorism efforts across the public health, medical, law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security community.  At the president’s direction, we have done an end-to-end review of all our bioterrorism efforts so that we can prioritize both our needs as well as our investments in this critical area. 

 

Under the president’s new national biodefense directive, all of our bioterrorism projects and programs will fall under a coordinated and focused strategic plan that will help maximize our resources, ensure a common unified effort across all federal agencies and address any deficiency that we discover.  Not only does the president’s new biodefense directive provide a focus for the present that’s very important obviously, but also provides guidance and direction for the future.  Individual agencies are given very specific responsibilities and accordingly, will be held accountable to meet those goals. 

 

From the creation of a biological attack warning system to an improved distribution system of critical antibiotics and vaccines, this plan charts a course toward our goal of a strong and robust bioterrorism defense.  The Department of Homeland Security plays a critical role in the success of the nation’s biodefense capabilities, particularly in the areas of detection and surveillance. 

 

One of our most important detection tools is the innovative BioWatch Program, which deploys environment sensors in our major urban areas to sample the air for biological agents.  It is a testament to how serious we have taken this threat, but this system was actually up and running in more than 30 of our nation’s cities well before the official formation of the Department of Homeland Security. 

 

The president’s budget this year contains $118 million to support and expand the program, including the development of improved environmental monitors.  At Homeland Security, we have also established a new national BioDefense Analysis and Countermeasure Center to study biological agents and provide a state-of-the art forensics capability to track down the source of any release that might occur. 

 

Now of course, the bioterrorism threat is too great for any single government entity to address, whether it’s Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, EPA, the Department of Defense, Department of Agriculture or the other various agencies.  We all bring very important resources and expertise to the table integral to meeting the threat.  And we’re all working diligently together, not just to meet the threat, but to defeat the threat as well.

 

Earlier this year, Secretary Thompson and I worked together announcing just such a partnership, when we put forward the president’s BioSurveillance Program – a $274 million initiative designed to bring together data collected by DHS, HHS, Agriculture and other agencies to more effectively protect the safety of our food supply as well as the health of our citizens.  These and other government-wide measures, such as stockpiling of antibiotics, obtaining enough smallpox vaccine for all citizens, and providing more than $4.5 billion to improve the ability of our public health system to respond to a crisis.  We’re greatly building our capacity to prevent and respond to a bioterrorism attack.  Now the president’s new biodefense directive will help this administration and these individual agencies go even further. 

 

Under this initiative in the coming months, Homeland Security will oversee the creation of an early warning and detection system.  This system will protect high-density populations from biological weapons attacks.  Homeland Security will establish a national biosurveillance group, a federal interagency group led by DHS to integrate all relevant threat information.  The information will then be given to the decisionmakers who need it to protect their communities who will develop a comprehensive plan that provides for a seamless, coordinated response across federal, state and local levels and we will work with HHS, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense and other agencies to pursue research and procurement of necessary biological, medical countermeasures. 

 

Addressing bioterrorism is a top priority of this administration.  And as President Bush has made so very clear, we must be unwavering in our dedication to both confronting and overcoming the threat.  Our fellow citizens expect and certainly deserve no less.  By working together, as Secretary Thompson mentioned, and integrating our capacities and efforts, we can make it more and more difficult for the terrorists to use these weapons against us.  And with determination and sustained commitment, we can make our nation both safer and stronger than ever before. 

 

Thank you very much.  Tommy.

 

Thompson:    Thank you.  Thank you, Tom.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I’m honored to work with you in this very important endeavor and I’m proud to talk about my department’s important role in defending America.  It is important to know how much this department has accomplished over the past few years in contributing to our homeland security.  The contrast between what we are doing a few years ago and what we’re doing today is absolutely striking.  HHS spends 12 times as much in bioterror preparedness as we did three years ago.  And when you look at our shared responsibility with DHS, the increase is even more. 

 

HHS funding has gone from $305 million in 2001 to $3.9 billion in 2004.  And we have requested $4.1 billion for next year.  On bioterrorism-related research alone, we’ve gone from spending $53 million in 2001 to $1.6 billion in 2004.  That’s more than 30 times as much for bioterrorism research.  HHS has almost 10 times as many staff members working on bioterrorism readiness as we did in 2001.  In order to protect the safety and security of America’s food supplies we’ve increased the food imports inspections from 12,000 in 2001 to 60,000 in 2004 and we’ll do over 100,000 in this fiscal year.  And we went from only a few states and regions having coordinated a public health and hospital plans in 2001 to having every single state complete joint planning this year. 

 

We’ve dramatically improved our capacity to respond to a threat of smallpox.  In 2001, we had only 15 million doses of the smallpox vaccine available.  D.A. Henderson who’s with us today was the father of the eradication of smallpox said we didn’t even have the VIG  available to send out the smallpox, even the small amount we had. 

 

Today we have more than enough doses of vaccine to be able to vaccinate every men, women and child in America, if necessary.  Research is also underway towards a very improved anthrax vaccine and we expect it to be available beginning in the middle of 2005.  To build on these successes, the president proposed a Project BioShield initiative to create a more secure source of funding, to be able to purchase new vaccines or treatments.  $5.6 billion has already been appropriated for BioShield over the next 10 years.  Because of all of these dramatic steps, I am happy to be able to report that we are better prepared to prevent and respond to any public health emergency.  But there’s always more that we can do and should do.  And as Secretary Ridge said:  This strategic plan identifies specific areas where we can do more to protect America.  HHS will take the lead on several different elements of the plan. 

 

First, we will plan to be able to anticipate future threats.  We know that terrorists want to do everything they can to harm America and they could be creative in their use of new or different biological agents.  We’re working to stay a step ahead of those who would harm us.  We’re using biotechnology, medical research and other methods to evaluate new toxins and agents that require new detection methods, preventive measures and treatments. 

 

Second, HHS will coordinate the development of medical countermeasures.  This, of course, ties in closely with our goal of anticipating future threats.  We are working to develop safe, effective medical countermeasures against biological weapons agents and we’re taking into consideration the possibility of new or genetically engineered agents.  We’re working to be ready for a wide variety of toxins from across the biological spectrum.  This is no small task for the great scientific minds at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration, among other HHS agencies, are up to the challenge. 

 

Lastly, we will continue to lead the effort to prepare for mass casualty care.  Our public health system has to be prepared in order to deal with widespread illness and casualties in the event of a biological attack or a naturally occurring outbreak of disease.  Thankfully, our public health infrastructure today is better than ever.  From county health departments to CDC in Atlanta to the 24-hour command center next to my office that some of you toured this morning.  Thanks to our improved infrastructure, we’re better able to identify and track outbreaks quickly, putting our resources in quick contact with those who will need them.  We know that hospitals, state health departments and other front-line agencies cannot possibly be fully prepared for any disaster.  So we have established strategic national stockpiles of pharmaceutical and medical supplies as part of our nation, our nationwide preparedness training and education program for state and local health care providers, first responders and governments. 

 

These stockpiles include large quantities of antibiotics, chemical antidotes, antitoxins, life-support medications, IV administration, airway maintenance supplies and many other surgical items.  And we’ve organized them for a flexible response. 

 

We have put together many supplies designed to be delivered rapidly when threats may still be ill-defined.  We call these Push Packages and their station is strategically located secured warehouses ready for immediate deployment.  These supplies can be delivered to anywhere in the United States or U.S. territories within under 10 hours.  We can follow-up on the Push Packages with additional supplies tailored to that event within 24 hours.  But again, we can do more and we’re working to strengthen and refine that process. 

 

Specifically, we’re working to create a national surge capacity so that hospitals and federal, state, local and private agencies can provide rapidly expandable mass casualty care.  So let me reiterate – the stakes here could not be any higher, but we are committed.  We are resolved and we’re ready to do our part with Homeland Security to help prepare and protect our country. 

 

Now it’s my privilege to introduce our Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.  Secretary Wolfowitz will talk about the efforts that he is helping to coordinate at the Department of Defense.  And it really is an honor, Paul, to have you in this department and I thank you very much for coming over here and being involved in this press conference. 

 

Wolfowitz:  Thanks, Tom.  Thank you, Tom.  It really is an honor to be able to join with these two very dedicated cabinet secretaries in announcing an extremely important initiative for our country’s defense.  I’m accompanied this morning by two of our most expert officials in the Department of Defense, Dr. William Winkenwerder who is the assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Dr. Dale Klein who’s assistant to the secretary for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs and they’ll be available afterwards to answer more detailed questions, if you have them. 

 

In our view, the initiative being announced today is a critical next step in ensuring the safety and security of the American people.  So much is now being done to meet the threat of biological warfare in various parts of the government that it is critical now to have a mechanism that can better integrate information, that can better coordinate our different efforts and that can guide us in using resources and tax dollars as effectively as possible. 

 

Biodefense has been a top priority of the Bush administration from the very first.  I can recall during the summer of 2001 when we conducted the Quadrennial Defense Review.  At the direction of Secretary Rumsfeld at the time it was decided that for the first time ever homeland defense needed to be an explicit mission of the Department of Defense.  And indeed, it was made our number-one priority.  That was even before the terrible events of September 11th.  Those attacks and the anthrax attacks that followed shortly afterwards brought home dramatically the magnitude and urgency of the terrorist threat to America. 

 

Let me echo what my colleagues have said already in their statements – the American people must appreciate the magnitude of the danger that we face from possible biological terrorism.  The threat is real.  It is deadly serious.  As horrible as it was to have thousands of innocent Americans killed on our own territory on that tragic day, that is nothing compared to what terrorists could do with the biological weapons that we know they have been actively seeking.  In many ways, biological weapons may be ideally suited for the methods and purposes of terrorists.  A mass attack with anthrax or some other biological agents could bring about civilian casualties and catastrophic damage to our economy.  On a scale far beyond even that which we experienced on September 11th, as devastating as that was. 

 

Our response to this threat must be commensurate with the danger that we face.  You have heard the substantial efforts that Homeland Security and Health and Human Services are doing to meet that threat.  Let me say a few words of what we are doing in the Department of Defense.

 

Actually, going back more than a century to the pioneering work of Walter Reed and infectious diseases, the U.S. military has been in the forefront of some of the most important medical research in this country.  Even today, Navy medical researchers are leading the effort to find a vaccine against malaria.  But perhaps most important for our efforts today, nearly a quarter century ago, we created the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases or since we always named acronyms in the Pentagon, “USAMRIID,” as we call it. 

 

And for decades, that institution has been in the forefront of researching, developing and fielding medical and non-medical defenses against biological weapons.  I must say at the time it was created, I think there were hopes that a quarter century later, we might not need that kind of defense any longer.  In fact, we need it even more today than when USAMRIID was founded and we are grateful for the pioneering work that the scientists at USAMRIID have been conducting. 

 

DoD has been the primary biodefense-focused organization in the government and heavily invested in facilities and science to support our military against these terrible threats.  We have identified vaccine candidates for such deadly viruses as anthrax, smallpox and Ebola -- all capable of killing millions of our people.  This lead DoD laboratory is now expanding is research base and partnering with the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security to help us respond to this potentially catastrophic threat.  This will be realized by the establishment of the National BioDefense Campus, currently under construction at Fort Detrick, Maryland. 

 

The Defense Department is actively pursuing new and emerging technologies in protection, detection, decontamination and medical countermeasure development against current and emerging threats.  And we are devoting over $800 million annually to those efforts.  The Defense Department has equipped 44 civil support teams [authorized 44, equipped 32 to date], made up of national guardsmen, capable of responding to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents and we are preparing to field up to 55 additional civil support teams to cover all 50 states and territories. 

 

The purpose of those teams is to provide detection, medical and consequence management capabilities.  The Defense Department has also established the Installation Protection Program – an ongoing $1.1 billion effort to provide chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear detection and defense capabilities for 200 Department of Defense installations in the United States and overseas.  These installations will also collaborate through the Department of Homeland Security and its BioWatch Program with local authorities to support national defense at the state and local level. 

 

We are actively participating in federal planning efforts to respond to a possible catastrophic event that would result in mass casualties.  This effort involves obviously not only the Defense Department, but brings to bear the capabilities of the entire federal government, as well as state and local authorities. 

 

The Defense Department has already vaccinated over 700,000 of our personnel.  This assures continuing effectiveness in the event of an attack.  And we are collaborating with Health and Human Services as that department implements the pending BioShield legislation which -- as Secretary Thompson mentioned -- will provide approximately $5.6 billion to accelerate medical countermeasures for biodefense. 

 

In addition, $1.6 billion is also available for biodefense research through the National Institutes of Health.  Our department is actively collaborating with HHS and NIH to identify areas of common development, leveraging our complementary experiences and strengths.  An interagency working group, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Medical Countermeasures Subcommittee, has prioritized and identified candidates for the initial round of Project BioShield funding.  This group is co-chaired by the assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs and his counterparts in the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.  That group will help leverage the valuable and growing capabilities of all three departments. 

 

And finally, in the international arena, we are establishing multiple collaborative programs with our allies particularly through NATO.  These efforts seek to increase international collaboration and science and technology exchanges that will benefit all of us in the defense against this potential global threat.  And that brings me back to today’s news. 

 

In fact, if I might add as an aside, we’ve had very important experience in the Defense Department, going back to landmark legislation in 1987, called the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which has given us now more than 15 years of experience in bringing together our different services with their different specializations and different traditions to function more effectively as a single organization.  The benefits of specialization are enormous, but the benefits of collaboration are equally so.  And the president’s new initiative will facilitate this kind of collaboration across cabinet departments and provide a comprehensive framework for biodefense activity across the government.  Ultimately, that means that the American people will be more secure and that’s the bottom line.  Thank you very much.

 

Thompson:   Thank you very much, Paul.  What we’re going to do is we’re going to have just a few questions of the three principals up here.  You can direct your question to any one of us.  Then there’s going to be a lot of the experts from the three departments:  Department of Defense; Homeland Security and HHS.  They’re going to stay afterwards and answer any of your technical questions, as it relates to the executive order signed by the president.  So with that, we’ll take three questions from the press at this particular point in time. 

 

Yes?

 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, some Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee have said that it’s taken the administration too long to get to this point.  Would you comment on that?  Why now?  Why did it – if you agree or disagree with that criticism and why did it take this long? 

 

Thompson:   Well, I think any one of us can answer that.  But let’s just be honest – there wasn’t hardly anything done before the Bush administration got here.  You just take a look at all of the things that each one of our department’s done.  Secretary Ridge’s department wasn’t even in existence.  And Secretary Ridge has taken an idea and has developed a homeland security into a department.  Democrats were nowhere to be when the last eight years, as far as setting up a Department of Homeland Security. 

 

In regard to this department, we didn’t even have – we had 15 million doses of smallpox and they were not packages so they could be sent out.  There was no VIG available, so it would be impossible to send the smallpox out.  There was hardly anything done in regard to that.  I’m not being critical because there’s different – it’s a different time right now.  We’ve gone from 15 million to over 400 million doses of smallpox.  We’re going to have an anthrax out by the middle of next year.  Department of Defense – all you have to do is just turn on the television every single day and see what the Department of Defense is doing across the world.  So to have anybody say that we haven’t done much in the last three years is absolutely absurd. 

 

Unknown:  I agree. 

 

[Laughter.]

 

Thompson:   Any other – well, seeing no other questions, the experts are going to stay behind and we’ll leave. 

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