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Monday, April 22nd, 2024

Senate HELP Committee likely to approve Kadlec as nominee for preparedness and response at HHS

Robert Kadlec

Dr. Robert Kadlec of Alexandria, Virginia, who was nominated last month by President Donald Trump to be assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is expected to be approved on Wednesday by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

The HELP Committee is holding an executive session on Wednesday to decide on nominees following Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for several of them to hold positions at HHS, including Kadlec. If approved, the nominee names then get passed to the Senate for a full confirmation vote.

Kadlec’s nomination lacks controversy. He’s a renowned bioterrorism expert who has years of experience on Capitol Hill.

“Your passion for preparedness and response is well established and most welcomed,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), in welcoming Kadlec prior to opening statements even starting.

In fact, Kadlec helped craft the position description he’s nominated for as a former HELP Committee staffer working under Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and the late Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

“I have firsthand insight into the rationale why HHS and the nation needed a single leader to be responsible for coordinating medical and public health preparedness and response,” Kadlec told HELP Committee members on Tuesday.

National incidents like the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, followed by the anthrax attacks, the potential for an influenza pandemic and Hurricane Katrina, to name a few, “demanded that we improve the federal government’s ability to assist state and local health authorities and to mobilize the private sector in responding to future events,” he said.

And today, “the need now is as real and urgent as it was then,” added Kadlec, who currently serves as the deputy staff director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and whose past efforts cover the spectrum of medical and non-medical biodefense issues and public health activities.

For instance, Kadlec served 26 years as a career officer and physician in the U.S. Air Force. He held several senior positions in the White House, the U.S. Senate and the Department of Defense. Previously, he served as a special assistant to the President for Biodefense Policy for President George W. Bush, where he was responsible for conducting the biodefense end-to-end assessment, which culminated in drafting the National Biodefense Policy for the 21st Century.

Kadlec also served as staff director for Burr’s subcommittee on bioterrorism and public health in the 109th Congress, where he helped draft the Pandemic and All-Hazard Preparedness Bill that was signed into law.

Kadlec holds a B.S. from the U.S. Air Force Academy; an M.D. from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; and an M.A. in National Security Studies from Georgetown University.

In testifying before the HELP Committee, Kadlec said he would pursue five priorities if confirmed. He would:

1. Provide strong leadership and a clear policy direction aimed at improving threat and situational awareness, while also advocating for adequate resources;

2. Create a national contingency health care system that would “better organize, train and equip our state and local healthcare systems, facilities and providers” to respond to every day and extraordinary events;

3. Support and sustain reliable public health security capabilities by improving the nation’s ability to detect and diagnose infectious diseases and other threats;

4. Advance an “innovative medical countermeasures enterprise.” He thinks it’s imperative that the U.S. capitalizes on biotechnology and science breakthroughs to develop and maintain a strong stockpile of vaccines, medicines and supplies to respond to emerging disease outbreaks, pandemics, and chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological incidents and attacks.

5. Work with the HELP Committee to reauthorize the the Pandemic and All-Hazard Preparedness Bill next year.

Above all, Kadlec said, he sees the job’s main function being about saving lives.

“As a physician, I can conceive of no greater honorable duty or higher calling than this,” he said.

And when asked by HELP Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander if he would have an issue telling other agencies or other departments who was in charge when it came to a national public health emergency, Kadlec shook his head and said absolutely not.

“I would say that I would be in charge for clarity. I would consider myself to be that but it does take more than one person to handle these issues — and I would help build a team under Secretary (Tom) Price … to complete the arduous predictive work well in advance of a crisis,” he said.