Thankfully, the doctor is in
Dr. Bob Kadlec literally wrote the script on how to fight a pandemic.
While toiling away in the Pentagon, the White House and the United States Senate, few have given more thought to the type of havoc a biological attack or pandemic could wreak upon America.
Fortunately for us, Kadlec is in the driver’s seat of the U.S. government’s COVID-19 response and there is nobody better qualified for the job.
Retired Colonel Bob Kadlec spent the first 20 years of his career in the United States Air Force as an officer and physician. He served as the special advisor for Counterproliferation Policy at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he worked to counter chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Kadlec even assisted in the response to the 2001 anthrax attacks.
At the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Kadlec was the lead staff member drafting the Pandemic and All-Hazard Preparedness Bill which was signed into law to improve the nation’s public health and medical preparedness and response capabilities for emergencies, whether deliberate, accidental, or natural. Sound familiar?
Later, Kadlec served at the White House as director for Biodefense on the Homeland Security Council and as a special assistant to the president for Biodefense Policy.
I got to know Bob Kadlec during my service in the United States Congress working on these critical issues as a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. Our paths crossed at each iteration of Kadlec’s career in the administration and in the Senate. He was the go-to guy (even then) in Washington on biodefense and pandemic response issues.
In 2004, Bob Kadlec worked in Congress to help create Project BioShield. Enacted in response to the 2001 anthrax attacks, the aim of BioShield was to stockpile drugs and vaccines to protect Americans from the agent’s terrorists might use against us — chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.
Two years later, he also championed passage of the bipartisan Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act. This bill created the HHS Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR), a position Kadlec’s now holds. The ASPR coordinates preparedness and response efforts across Health and Human Services and other agencies. The law also created the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). BARDA supports the advanced development — like Phase II and III clinical trials of drugs and vaccines needed in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).
These two landmark laws are the direct result of Kadlec’s tireless efforts over the last two decades. They have made America safer from natural and man-made threats. For example, over the last decade, BARDA’s partnerships with the private sector have resulted in FDA approval of 35 new medical countermeasures against the dangerous threats we face.
But this preparedness infrastructure Kadlec helped create is only as good as the resources dedicated to the effort. Fortunately, a loose-knit group of bipartisan champions in Congress has developed to lead a sustained effort to drive progress, attention and resources to these areas. However, in recent years, without a global pandemic dominating the headlines, America’s preparedness has fallen behind due to a lack of robust, consistent funding.
Committed public servants like Dr. Kadlec can’t do their jobs with one hand tied behind their back. HHS and ASPR need the funds they’ve asked for respond to COVID-19 and prepare America for future threats.
Bob Kadlec is in the right spot at the right time for our country. I know, as I spent 15 years working alongside him to protect America from and help respond to threats like COVID-19.
Let’s hope the senior Trump administration officials in the White House and out at the agencies have the wisdom to let Kadlec as the ASPR perform his role. He’s literally spent his career preparing for this moment.
The bipartisan urgency of the time presents an opportunity to build on this capacity and come together to protect all Americans.
Jack Kingston is a principal at the law firm Squire Patton Boggs and a former Member of Congress from Georgia. Squire Patton Boggs serves as Secretariat for the Alliance for Biosecurity, a coalition of biopharmaceutical companies and laboratory/academic partners that works closely with the government to develop, produce, stockpile and distribute medical countermeasures: vaccines, therapeutics and tests.
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