Biodefense and Public Health Preparedness

Richard A. Falkenrath
Richard A. Falkenrath Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, The Brookings Institution

March 16, 2006

Good morning, Mister Chairman, Senator Kennedy, and Members of the Committee. I am grateful for the opportunity to be here today to provide my views on the reauthorization of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-188), and biodefense and public health preparedness more generally. I am honored to be asked to assist your Committee as you discharge your vital oversight responsibilities.

The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 was an extremely important bill. It was the first of several important steps taken by the United States in the area of biodefense after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The direction and authorizations contained within Title I of the Bioterrorism Act made sense at the time. Most of them still make sense today, but there are certain aspects in which I believe modifications are in order. I describe these recommendations in the testimony that follows.

I would like to commend the members of this committee for holding a hearing at this time. Biodefense and public health preparedness is not the crisis de jour. Yet biodefense and public health preparedness are profoundly important subjects: more important, in my judgment, than many of the security issues that have dominated the public debate in the last few months. As I know from first-hand experience, it is difficult for senior policymakers to devote their time and energy to matters of great importance but no immediate urgency.

I would also like to commend the American and international public health community. I am continually impressed by the beneficence and selfless dedication of the countless doctors, nurses, scientists, technicians, and other public servants who have devoted themselves to the fight against infectious disease. Here in the United States, we are particularly fortunate to have two individuals of highest possible caliber serving as our Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and our Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID). I have some sense of the enormity of the challenges they and others still serving in government face. The testimony I have to offer today should in no way be taken as a critique of the performance of any individual government official at any level. Rather, the criticism I offer today is meant to be constructive and is directed at the overall U.S. strategy for dealing with catastrophic disease events.

For the record, my name is Richard A. Falkenrath and I am presently a senior fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. I am also Managing Director of the Civitas Group LLC, a strategic advisory and investment services firm serving the homeland security market, and a security analyst for the Cable News Network (CNN). Until May 2004, I was Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor on the White House staff. Previously, I served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Policy and Plans within the Office of Homeland Security, and as Director for Proliferation Strategy on the National Security Council staff. Prior to government service, I was an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.