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June 25, 2002
Thank you, Mr Chairman and members of the Committee for giving me the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the proposed Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Thompson and I strongly support the reorganization initiative that the President announced earlier this month.
The threat of terrorism in its myriad forms has become an ever-present part of our daily lives. The new Department will enable us to make further significant advances in protecting the American people from those who are bent upon inflicting death, destruction, and social disorder to achieve their ideological ends. We are pleased that the Congress is giving the President's proposal prompt and thorough attention. Secretary Thompson and I look forward to working with this and other Committees to ensure passage of the legislation for the new Department.
The President's proposal deals with certain terrorism-related activities that currently are the responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Some of these HHS activities would be transferred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For other relevant public health and medical activities, DHS would assume responsibility for setting goals and providing strategic direction but would rely upon HHS to implement and operate the activities on a day-to-day basis.
I will discuss examples from each group of activities in turn.
EXAMPLES OF ACTIVITIES PROPOSED FOR TRANSFER FROM HHS TO DHS
HHS functions conveyed to the new Department in the President's proposal include:
Select Agent Registration Program
Within HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently regulates the transfer of certain dangerous pathogens and toxins – commonly referred to as "Select Agents" – from one registered facility to another. These agents are widely used in research laboratories across America. Examples are the bacterium that causes anthrax, the bacterium that causes Plague, and the virus that causes Ebola, a lethal hemorrhagic fever. Select Agents are prime candidates for use by would-be bioterrorists and thus, when used in research, must be kept constantly under safe and secure conditions.
The recently enacted Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 authorized HHS to promulgate and enforce regulations concerning the possession and use of Select Agents, as well as their transfer. While CDC has done its best to manage the Select Agent program, CDC is a public health agency and not a regulatory body. We believe that the new department, with its strong multi-purpose security and regulatory infrastructure, will be well-suited to prevent nefarious or other irresponsible uses of Select Agents. HHS will be prepared to provide DHS with whatever scientific expertise and other technical assistance it may seek to help it manage the program. Under the Administration bill, the Secretary of Homeland Security would administer the select agents program in consultation with the HHS Secretary, and HHS would continue to make key medical and scientific decisions, such as which biological agents should be included in the select agents list.
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness
The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 created the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness. The responsibilities of this new office include the supervision of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, the National Disaster Medical System, the Metropolitan Medical Response Systems, and related HHS emergency management functions. This cluster of activities is a logical and proper candidate for transfer to DHS – thereby enabling seamless integration of national public health and medical emergency management assets with the Nation's new preparedness and response infrastructure at DHS. The Public Health Service Officers and other HHS employees who have faithfully performed disaster relief work over the years have done a wonderful service for our Nation. They are a credit to HHS as they surely will be to the new Department.
National Pharmaceutical Stockpile
CDC currently manages 12 "push packages" of pharmaceutical and medical supplies and equipment strategically located around the United States; additional lots of pharmaceuticals and caches of medical materiel are maintained by manufacturers under special contractual arrangements with CDC. You may recall that one of the push packages was dispatched to New York City on September 11th and that elements of the stockpile were used to respond to the anthrax attacks. The Secretary and I strongly believe that CDC has done an exemplary job managing what is now called the Strategic National Stockpile and this fine work has set the stage for integration of the Stockpile with other national emergency preparedness and response assets at DHS.
The President's proposal is designed to achieve this integration by tapping the strengths of DHS and HHS in a precisely coordinated way. Thus, the Secretary of Homeland Security will assume responsibility for continued development, maintenance, and deployment of the Stockpile – making it an integral part of the larger suite of federal response assets managed by FEMA and other future DHS components – while the Secretary of Health and Human Services will continue to determine its contents. The arrangement will ensure effective blending of the public health expertise of HHS with the logistical and emergency management expertise of DHS.
DHS FUNCTIONS TO BE CARRIED OUT THROUGH HHS
Certain specific program level details and administrative choices are still being studied in order to ensure the most seamless transition, and to give the greatest possible levels of efficiency and effectiveness to our fight against the threat of biological warfare and to protect the public health. However, the President's proposal clearly designates the following two activity areas that the Secretary of Homeland Security will carry out through the Department of Health and Human Services:
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, our Nation needs a Department of Homeland Security. The Secretary and I strongly support the President's proposal and look forward to doing whatever is necessary to effect a smooth and swift transition of responsibilities and operations. The Secretary and I believe that the President's proposal strikes the right balance: it plays to the strengths of HHS and recognizes this agency's core mission - the protection of our Nation's public health - while capitalizing on the strategic and logistical strengths of the new Department of Homeland Security. We will ensure that HHS fulfills its obligations to the new Department and provides it with whatever public health, medical, and scientific expertise it may require.
At this time, I would be happy to answer your questions.
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Last revised: June 28, 2002