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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Recommendation and Perspective of the Blueprint for Biodefense

Biodefense Summit Transcript

Remarks by Governor Tom Ridge, Co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel of Biodefense

   
>> CICELY WATERS: Thank you all for helping us to stay on track today. Hope you had an opportunity to network with your colleagues, as well as really take a tour of this beautiful facility. We'll now return to the formal portion of our program, and at this time, we're pleased to have with us Vietnam Veteran, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Governor Tom Ridge. He also serves as co chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel for Biodefense. Today, he'll address the national biodefense strategy and the blueprint for biodefense. Governor Ridge?

(Applause.)

>> TOM RIDGE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to join you. On a personal note, if you don't mind, I want to tell you what a great pleasure it is to join you and, um, be reconnected with a man with whom I have the greatest admiration and respect in Dr. Kadlec. Way back when, long before there was a Department of Homeland Security, we had a Homeland Security Council, I was sequestered in a room outside the Oval Office and, um, board of director around biodefense, and, so, there was only one person in the government that we thought should lead that effort within the Homeland Security Council, my friend, Bob Kadlec. Dr. Kadlec, you and I have been at this for 13, 14 years. To a certain extent, I think this is a culmination of a vision that Dr. Kadlec has had for most of his professional life. If this group of people in attendance today, and those who may be watching it, if we're streaming it, don't appreciate the national security, homeland security, public health, or economic need for this country to be far more concerned about biodefense, then there's not another group of Americans that will be.

There's probably no other group of Americans, unless you're dealing with it in the intelligence community or else where, that is aware of the threat, whether it's mother nature, which changes pretty rapidly, nation states and the like, so the notion that you've convened today, and those listening as well, um, around, hopefully, the end of this is not just another good meeting, this is the first of a longer term effort to build out, from the strategy that both Congress and President Trump and President Obama worked on, so that we ultimately have an implementation plan for a strategy that's been long overdue to deal with the pathogens that can affect our way of life. So, I'm very, very pleased to be back with Dr. Kadlec, and I'm very honored and privileged to be in your company as well today. For those of you who work in the federal government, I want to thank you for your public service. I've held a bunch of jobs in government all my life, it's very important that I recognize your contribution to the health, safety and security of this country, and I want to tip my hat to you. You know, the ideology of the strategy is a rather interesting one. My good friend, Senator Joe Lieberman, called me, I think back in 2014, and he said there's a group of people putting together a bipartisan, and it truly is bipartisan, which is, one of these days, maybe the Congress will get around to not only saying it, but acting in that fashion, and you can probably help down the road in that regard.

We've put together a bipartisan group to take a look at biodefense. We know the implications of, um, of these pathogens on who we are, how we live, our way of life, and we don't take it seriously. There are over 50 or 60 political appointees in various parts of the federal government that deal with biodefense, what, you got 50 or 60 people, but where's the strategy? You know, because a lot of you represent the different agencies in the federal government that have certain biodefense capabilities, we're pretty siloed, so you got well intentioned people located all over the federal government, you don't have a unified budget, you don't have a strategy, and we're spending billions, and we can't very well look to too many good outcomes, and, so, when this White House developed and submitted and released its, one of the recommendations of the blueprint, Blue Ribbon Panel was what's the overall strategy? Well, the strategy's not any good unless you can implement it, and that's why you're so critically important, not only today, but in the way ahead. When I was in the White House, before the department existed, one of my first briefings was on the, um, pathogens that nation states had potentially available or the terrorists might deploy, and would you be surprised to learn, no, you won't be surprised, because you probably knew this back then, Ebola was one of them.

Now, you fast forward from when I got that briefing in 03 to when we had the crisis with Ebola, and you have to tell me whether we got lucky or we were prepared. I'm going to tell you, I think we got lucky, and in this day and age, and people say to me, based on your experience as secretary of Homeland Security, what keeps you up at night, actually, even when I was Secretary, they said you probably don't get much sleep, I said I don't get much sleep, but I do sleep well, because I know how hard hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans are working every day across the federal government, state government, local government, etc., to keep us safe and secure, but if you ask me what I'd be most concerned about right now, I'd be worried about a radiological event and a bio event, whether thrown at us by mother nature, nation state or terrorist group, and I raise that respectfully before you to say that if it happens, no one in this room and no one in the federal government, including in the White House or in Congress, can plead surprise, because you know better than most that it exists, and the threat is real, and the threat is growing, and so we have to do something about it. I know from time to time, people refer to a cyber Pearl Harbor. You can't plead surprise. We know what's going on in the world today.

So, for somebody, a nation state, to say, oh, I can't believe our enemies would do a cyber attack, you can't plead surprise, you know it's going on. Remember the 9 11 report? 9 11 report said one of the challenges pre 9 11 was a failure of imagination. Well, you don't need your imagination here, it exists, it's a real problem, it's a real challenge to this country, and so when Senator Lieberman called me, I said, you know, Senator, I would absolutely be thrilled and honored to work with you, a terrific public servant, and we actually had three Rs and three Ds, still working together tirelessly, and one of the first things we did, one of the highest priorities was let's encourage the Administration to build out a strategy, because we're not going to be able to plead surprise, we don't want there to be a failure of imagination, let's take a look at what we're doing well, and let's take a look at what we need to do, and to that extent, we pull you in here, and we ask you to consider this meeting today as just a pre cursor to your collaboration we're going to need you to focus in on in the months, and maybe the years ahead. One of the biggest challenges, I think, we have going forward, and here's where I think it's very important, is to understand that we got to tear down the silos, we've got to, we just got to, this whole notion, it's my turf, and I'm not going to let anybody else play in it, we've got to dismiss that.

I had to deal with silos as Secretary of Homeland Security, and my successors are still dealing with it, until, frankly, the federal government understands it's the same team, same fight, I don't care what department you're in, we're never going to get this stuff done correctly, and it's kind of interesting, as you go back, when you're privileged to wear the uniform in the country, you know, the men and women in combat, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard, they're siloed, but boy, when they get in the midst of things, they work together toward a common goal. I really think that, um, we need to take that approach, and not just within the federal government, this is an all hands on deck, this is federal, state, local, this is the academic community, this is the private sector. Without your input, without your collaboration, without your commitment, in all the work, listen, Blue Ribbon Commission, I'm proud to be associated with these men and women and the staff, I'm proud to be associated with Dr. Kadlec, his great staff and his secretariat, but if all we do is conduct and hold meetings and tell each other the threat is real, the threat is growing, we've got to do something about it, then we haven't really advanced it very far. So, my first encouragement to you is to accept the challenge and the opportunity to make a difference in your country's safety and security, because the implications are huge. Collaboration's important. No more silos, no more jurisdictional fights, and we're going to need your help up on the hill down the road as well, but, first, we want to get an implementation plan, okay?

We got the strategy, this is, we got the broad vision, we got the 30,000, we got the game plan, now how do we execute it? That's why we've asked you to be here. When Senator Lieberman called, I said I don't want to be part of another study. Another study? You know, I remember when Congress, and I go way back when, I was Congress for six terms, and one of the favorite things Congressmen or committee people would do is have a department or agency come up with a study. Bloody waste of time, in my judgment.

(Laughing.)

>> TOM RIDGE: No Congressmen or committee chairman, I say this respectfully because I love the institution, I was part of the House of Representatives, no Congressman or Senator can ask for a study ever again, if after the state that they ask for it, you give them a test on the study.

(Laughing.)

>> TOM RIDGE: And if they fail the test, they can never ask for another study, because they didn't bloody read it.

(Laughing.)

>> TOM RIDGE: So, we have the study commission, and people are reading it. It's pretty exciting. President Obama's White House read it, President Trump's White House read it, the Congress of the United States read it, and the third recommendation was the comprehensive strategy, the fourth recommendation was how about a unified budget. You are all in this space, you work in biodefense. How much money do you think the federal government spends on biodefense? You don't have a clue, because nobody really knows, because it's all over the place, and what dollars and what jurisdiction are getting us the outcomes we want and the outcomes we need and outcomes that are consistent with the national priorities? Nobody can answer that question, because nobody knows. That's why implementation of this plan, I think is critically important for the future of health security, national security, and economic security of this country. Listen, I hope it doesn't take another 18 years to do it, but that's how long Bob Kadlec and I have been working on it. I mean, I realize Washington moves at glacial like speed. I dare say the glaciers are moving faster than we are, but at least we're moving in the right direction now, and as Senator Lieberman and this great group of my colleagues said, all right, we're going to do this study, let's make very specific recommendations. We made almost 36 of them, and let's have action items, and I think we, there's about 90 very specific action items, and a lot of these are embedded in that strategy.

So, one of the reasons I was pleased that Bob Kadlec was kind enough to invite me to spend a little time with you this morning is to, one, congratulate Bob and his team on their good work, to thank those of you who have been involved in this process, and we got to expand the universe of people and organizations that are trying to help us implement the strategy, but also to beseech, to implore, to encourage, and to challenge you to execute on the game plan. Same team, same fight, no silos, no jurisdictions. We need outcomes, so let's set some high priorities. We need to have very positive and beneficial outcomes and work collaboratively to accomplish them. A couple final thoughts, if I might. Teddy Roosevelt is one of my favorite presidents, and he said a long time ago that one of life's great prizes, I'm paraphrasing, and it's just hard work worth doing. This is hard work. It's complicated work, but it's certainly worth doing, and again, I beseech you, I don't expect 330 million Americans to appreciate the nature of the threat, the impact on the environment, the impact on animals, the impact on humans. It's interesting, even during the course of some of the discussions we've had, some of our colleagues and others have said I didn't know what Janot meant. You mean animals get disease too? When you think about this, it covers every aspect of our existence in this country. That's why your involvement and continued engagement is very, very important.

So, I think during the course of the day, you're going to have some extraordinary speakers, great panels, and take a look at what we consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of our approach, our needs, our redundancies, and I'm just going to encourage each and every one of you to participate in the fullest, not just today, but in the months and years ahead. Let me be very clear about what we need and how we can successfully implement this strategy. Right now, the Blue Ribbon Commission, we're doing a status report on the recommendations we made and the action items that we recommended, and we've made great progress, but you, um, you can help us accelerate the progress. You can actually, you'll make the difference as to whether or not the commission's efforts were fruitful at the end of the day. All of us have every confidence in Dr. Kadlec's leadership, the great team he's assembled in the department, and we have great confidence in you as well. I'm going to remind you again, there will be no bio pearl Harbor, we'll never be able to plead surprise, you know that, so it's up to us, those of us who have been privileged to have the opportunity to make a difference, to commit ourselves to doing just that. So, I want to thank you for your participation, I want to thank you for your involvement today. It's hard work worth doing. I have a great deal of confidence in you and Dr. Kadlec that you'll get the job done. So, thank you for giving me the opportunity to spend a little time with you this morning. Thanks very much.

(Applause.)

>> TOM RIDGE: Have you read it?

(Laughing.)

>> TOM RIDGE: Why not a little advertisement before I walk out the door?

(Laughing.)

>> TOM RIDGE: And if you don't have a copy, we're going to get you one, and this is serious work that only people such as yourselves can make it, can turn these words into action. I'm confident that you can, so good luck.

(Applause.)

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  • This page last reviewed: February 15, 2022