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19 Dec 2002

Source: Washington Post, June 13, 2002.

Bioterror Defense Bill Signed

Bush Says Goal Is to Counter 'Most Dangerous Weapons'

By Bill Miller, Washington Post Staff Writer

President Bush, saying that "biological weapons are potentially the most dangerous weapons in the world," signed legislation yesterday that provides $4.3 billion for drugs, vaccines, training and other initiatives to deal with a bioterror attack.

The legislation, crafted in the wake of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 and the subsequent anthrax outbreak, calls for tightening security at water plants, improving food inspections, and increasing stockpiles of vaccines against smallpox and other diseases. It also provides $1.6 billion for states to aid with emergency preparedness.

"Last fall's anthrax attacks were an incredible tragedy to a lot of people in America, and it sent a warning that we needed and heeded," Bush said in a Rose Garden ceremony. "We must be better prepared to prevent, identify and respond."

The FBI has made no arrests in the anthrax attacks, which killed five people and made 13 others ill in the first fatal instance of biological terrorism on U.S. soil.

The legislation includes spending for the current fiscal year and fiscal 2003. It requires community water systems serving more than 3,300 people to conduct vulnerability assessments and prepare emergency response plans, and it gives the Food and Drug Administration new authority to bar unsafe foods from entering the country.

The package had overwhelming backing on Capitol Hill, and Bush is hoping to replicate that consensus with his proposal to create a Department of Homeland Security that would combine all or parts of 22 federal agencies. The new department would be the lead agency in dealing with bioterrorism, managing the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile and promoting research for new vaccines and antidotes.

Bush promoted the reorganization plan at the signing ceremony, saying it would "align authority and responsibility." Afterward, he joined Tom Ridge, his adviser on homeland security, in the first meeting of a group of 16 business, academic and government leaders recruited by the White House for a new anti-terror advisory council.

The Homeland Security Advisory Council will recommend ways to get the new department rolling. It is headed by Joseph J. Grano Jr., chairman of UBS PaineWebber.

"You all can play a very useful role in this process," Bush said in convening the panel. "You bring a lot of heft and a lot of experience and a lot of know-how."

With Ridge planning to present Bush with a national anti-terror strategy in July, the members will have little time to have input on the drafting of any proposals that emerge. But Ridge said the council will have a critical role in following up with more ideas and in helping with the mechanics of setting up a new department.

The council's members include William H. Webster, former head of the FBI and CIA; James R. Schlesinger, who helped create the Energy Department in the late 1970s; Kathleen M. Bader, a vice president with Dow Chemical Co.; Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University; Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R); Sidney Taurel, chairman of Eli Lilly and Co.; and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).

Schlesinger had these words of caution: "It is easier to develop a plan and a strategy than to see it is executed, particularly in the federal government."

Ridge said the council will help with putting the strategy into action because the members "are all very successful leaders. They've all delivered on ideas.... They've been involved in merger and acquisition work. They know the pitfalls."

Ridge spent an hour with the council, then dashed to Capitol Hill, where he briefed House members on the new department in a closed session. A similar meeting is scheduled for today with the Senate. Ridge said that he was encouraged by House leaders who want to take action by Sept. 11 but that the process might prove to be more time-consuming than that, with the end of the year a more achievable target.