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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Closing Remarks

Biodefense Summit Transcript

Remarks by Cicely Waters, Director - Office of External Affairs, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response,U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; James McDonnell, Assistant Secretary of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, Department of Homeland Security


>> CICELY WATERS: -- was to be able to garner your feedback in terms so that we can use it to build an implementation plan for executing the strategy.

Just as a reminder, please feel free, if you have additional thoughts, additional feedback, or suggestions, please feel free to send those to us in writing by May 1st, to the ASPRbio@HHS.gov email address. We will send all registered participants an email reminder seeking your feedback before May 1st.

And it was also brought to my attention earlier that I did not formally introduce myself this morning at the start of the meeting. I am Cicely Waters. I serve as the Director of External Affairs of ASPR and it's certainly been the pleasure to serve as the facilitator for today's meeting. I now turn the --

[APPLAUSE].

>> CICELY WATERS: Thank you; thank you.

I now turn the floor over to Mr. McDonnell who will offer our closing remarks. Mr. James McDonnell is the Assistant Secretary of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction for the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. McDonnell.

[APPLAUSE].

>> JAMES McDONNELL: Thanks, Cicely. So when Bob Kadlec called and asked me if I would do this he told me to keep it under an hour so I'll try to do that for you guys. I actually thought we were really squared away until the question about space came up and then I was like, okay. That plan is not working out so well.

So biothreats, deliberate or accidental, naturally occurring, are among the worst and most serious things in our international security framework that we need to think about. The President's National Security Strategy Pillar 1 includes biothreats and pandemics.

So it's right upfront.

At the Department of Homeland Security I have the biodefense portfolio under me. It's similar to I was the head of security for a nuclear company. It was a big money company. I spent most of the time worrying about cybersecurity and when I came into the Government with the Trump Administration to run nuclear security, I was told I was going to get chemical and bio. I said, okay, that's probably not going to be so bad. But in fact chemical and bio take much more of the time and are far more dynamic of a threat.

So the work that we do and the work that you guys do is really critical.

I know Tom Ridge was here this morning. And he was my boss last time I was in Government. And I'm a big fan of the Blue Ribbon Panel. I don't know if Tom mentioned this this morning or not. But what him and Joe Lieberman leading that, what they have done with that, is make sure that it's an ongoing, living event. And they check on things. They do reports. They actually hold sort of little hearings and say, how are things going? I had people in my office this week asking, what's the status? What are you doing? Are you making progress?

I think for the Biodefense Strategy that's -- we're talking about today, that's the model that it has to be. It's got to be a living process. And it's got to include everybody. I was glad to hear the previous panel, the subject of panel -- silos came up.

Silos aren't going to work. This -- I tell my folks that CWMD is a team sport. Biodefense is a team sport. It takes all types of expertise and all types of information sharing. And there's no borders. It's international. I guess it includes space now, too. So I've got to go home and rethink that one over a beer.

But it really is something that takes -- there's no individual skill set that's going to solve the problem alone. There's social scientists, there's microbiologists, there's school teachers. There's public community, everybody understanding what we're doing and being able to support.

The Federal role in this -- so right now we have a group of people -- so Bob Kadlec is actually a really good friend of mine, we have known each other for years. The folks in the leadership roles around the different agencies right now are all actually good friends. And we get together. We talk a lot. We care about this. We all recognize its our job to support you guys at the end of the day. So it's the academic community. It's the Think Tanks. It's the public health response people.

Those are the ones that have to drive the requirements. And so if this is going to be an effective approach, it can't be a topdown directive implementation. It needs to be community-based implementation where the Federal team is taking direction from the local team and the broader communities.

I believe that really strongly. I know Bob does, as well. And I think over the next couple of years, unless somebody got a tweet about my job in the last 15 minutes, I may not be here, but in the next couple of years, hopefully we'll be doing that. And we'll be doing that as a team.

You know, just listening and looking at the diversity of the folks who are here today, that's critically important. But my challenge to you folks and to the team in general is don't go home and think this is over because we had a meeting. Right? The implementation plan and the actions that come out of it have to be what drives this.

Eisenhower said no plan survives contact with the enemy. This is similar. It could just turn into another document collecting dust on a shelf or we have to make it a living, breathing thing. I think the commitment from leadership right now is it's a living, breathing thing. And we have to nurture that and make it grow and make it expand.

I do want to thank all of the panelists and the speakers for being here today. I got to see some old friends from New Mexico. So a lot of people traveling in from out of town. This is an important subject. And the fact that people are taking the time to sit, share ideas. So I would suggest give yourself a round of applause for all of the work and in particular the ASPR folks, Dr. Kadlec, National Academy of Sciences for hosting this. But -- so a round of applause for all you folks for all of the hard work you're doing.

[APPLAUSE]

>> JAMES McDONNELL: And I'll close with saying the American people are counting on us to do a good job so now it's time to get to work. Thanks very much.

[APPLAUSE]

  • This page last reviewed: June 21, 2019