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 Home > News & Policies > February 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 3, 2003

President Discusses Measures to Protect the Homeland from Bioterrorism
Remarks by the President on the Bioshield Initiative
Natcher Building
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland

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     Fact sheet Fact Sheet: Project BioShield

2:05 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for that warm welcome. It's a delight to be here at the National Institutes of Health, a center of excellence, a center of the brilliance of the American people. It is a place where so many good people do work every day to help save lives. And we're thankful for that. America is really proud of what you do here. NIH is a great credit to America. (Applause.)

As Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, left, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson listen, President George W. Bush discusses plans to protect America against biological attack at the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Health in Bethesda Md., Monday, Feb. 3, 2003. "Project BioShield will give our scientific leaders greater authority and flexibility in decisions that may affect our security," explained the President. "Our labs will be able to hire the experts, get more funding quickly, and build the best facilities to accelerate urgently needed discoveries."  White House photo by Paul Morse Two days ago, America was yet reminded again of the sacrifices made in the name of scientific discovery. The seven brave men and women from the Columbia will be remembered for their achievements, their heroism and their sense of wonder. Our prayers are with their families and their loved ones.

Their 16-day mission held the promise of answering scientific problems that elude us here on earth. Columbia carried in its payroll [sic] classroom experiments from some our students in America. I hope these children, our future scientists, will continue to ask questions, continue to explore, continue to discover.

And while we grieve the loss of these astronauts, the cause of which they died will continue, America's journey into space will go on. (Applause.) The spirit of modern science embodied in our space program can be found here at NIH, where each day you make enormous progress against disease and suffering -- these achievements that come about through the great ingenuity and determination and the serious moral purpose of America's scientific community.

Now our scientists have been called to meet a different kind of challenge: man's efforts to use diseases as weapons of war and terror. This threat has placed research scientists at the center of our mission to defend the American people. It has put NIH squarely in the midst of our war to defend America and to defeat international terrorism. With focus and determination and necessary resources, this government will act before dangers are upon us.

I want to thank Tommy Thompson for his leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services. And I want to thank my friend, Tom Ridge, for taking on the Department of Homeland Security, the new agency designed to coordinate federal assets over state and local assets in order to protect -- better protect America.

I'm honored that members of the United States Congress have joined us. Senator Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts is with us; thank you, Senator Kennedy. And Chris Cox of California; Jim Turner of Texas; Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

I want to thank Dr. Elias Zerhouni, who is the Director of the Institute -- the National Institutes of Health, for his fine, fine leadership of this really important institution. He really is doing a fine job. You know, when I picked him, I thought he would do okay -- (laughter) -- he's far exceeded my expectations. (Applause.) He's really, really a good man who is honoring our country with his leadership.

Tony Fauci, of course, I've known him for a long time. He is a distinguished Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases -- one of the generals in the war against HIV/AIDS, for which we are really grateful, Tony, for your dedication. (Applause.) I want to thank -- Mark McClellan is here with us, the Director of the Food and Drug Administration. I appreciate your leadership, Mark, on this incredibly important agency.

Gary Nabel is with us. He is the Director of the Vaccine Research Center, who just took us on a really interesting tour. I asked him if this is the best in the world, and he said, you bet, not only do we have the best equipment in the world, Mr. President, we've got the best people in the world working there. And I want to thank you for your leadership, Gary. (Applause.)

And I want to thank all of the hard-working employees from the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and the new Department of Homeland Security who are here today. Thank you for your dedication to our country. Thank you for working long hours, that enable me to go out to the countryside and say to the American people there's a lot of good folks working long, hard hours to protect you, do the best we can do to make sure America is safe and secure.

Today, I sent to the United States Congress my budget for fiscal year 2004. The budget keeps the fundamental commitments of our government, including our commitments to be good stewards with taxpayers' money. I propose that discretionary federal spending increase by no more than 4 percent this year. That's about as much of family income is expected to grow. It seems like a reasonable benchmark for the federal budget.

Within that limit we can fund essential priorities at home and abroad, and meet the responsibility to show spending discipline in Washington, D.C.

The first responsibility of our government is to defend our nation. The attacks of September the 11th, 2001 awakened America to the dangers of a new era. We face a different kind of threat than we were used to.

On that morning, we saw the face of an enemy that will use an means to strike America -- no matter how much destruction it causes, no matter how many innocent lives were lost. The kind of men who would seize planes filled with innocent people and crash them into buildings would not hesitate to use biological or chemical or nuclear weapons. They wouldn't hesitate at all. They don't value life like we value life in America. They don't see every life as precious, like we see every life as precious in America.

We have every reason to believe that terrorists and outlaw regimes would turn these weapons on the United States. We've been warned. On September the 11th, 2001, they clearly showed what they think about our country. And we will heed the lessons of 2001 -- September the 11th, 2001.

We know that our enemies have been working to acquire weapons of mass destruction. That is a fact. If their ambitions were ever realized, they would set out to inflict catastrophic harm on the United States, with many times the casualties of September the 11th.

So we're going to do everything in our power to protect the people and to prevent that day from ever happening. Across the world, we're making a determined effort with a lot of friends to round up terrorists wherever they hide, whatever cave they may be in, and bring them to justice. It doesn't matter how long it's going to take. One by one, we are going to dismantle their networks, so that America and our friends and allies are safe from harm.

We're working with international authorities to track and control nuclear weapons. We seek to strengthen global agreements banning the production and shipment of missile technologies and weapons of mass destruction. We're working with others in the world to face the new threat.

And in Iraq, where a brutal regime is arming to threaten the world -- the peace of the world, we have made our intentions very clear. If the dictator does not disarm, if he doesn't get rid of his weapons of mass destruction, then the United States will lead a coalition to disarm him. And we will do so in the name of peace, and we will do so for the security of the American people.

Also, as we confront dangers abroad, we're taking unprecedented action to protect the homeland. We've stepped up security at our borders and ports, posted federal screeners in airports, begun vaccinating troops and first responders against small pox. And we have stockpiled enough vaccine to inoculate the entire population.

We are proposing billions of dollars to help first responders and hospitals increase their effectiveness. The Congress needs to finish the appropriations process as soon as possible, so we can get that money to the local governments.

We're putting in place a national system of air sensors to detect biological attack. These are responsible and essential measures to protect our homeland and our people. And in the years to come, we must broaden our defenses against the use of diseases as a weapon.

In my State of the Union address, I asked Congress to approve a comprehensive plan for research and production of needed drugs and vaccines, a plan that we call Project BioShield. My budget requests almost $6 billion to quickly make available safer and more effective vaccines and treatments against agents like small pox, anthrax, botulinum toxin, e-bola and plague.

We already have the knowledge and ability to manufacture some of the vaccines and drugs we need. Yet, we have had little reason to do so up until now, because the natural occurrence of these diseases in our country is so rare. But the world changed on September the 11th, 2001, and we've got to respond to that change.

In light of the new threats, we must now develop and stockpile these vaccines and these treatments. Right now, America must go beyond our boarders to find companies willing to make vaccines to combat biological weapons. Two main drug therapies used to treat anthrax are produced overseas. We must rebuild America's capacity to produce vaccines by committing the federal government to the purchase of medicines that combat bioterror.

Under Project Bioshield, the government will have the spending authority to purchase these vaccines in huge amounts, sufficient to meet any emergency that may come. Project BioShield will give our scientific leaders greater authority and flexibility in decisions that may affect our security. Our labs will be able to hire the experts, get more funding quickly, and build the best facilities to accelerate urgently needed discoveries.

We'll have a better and safer smallpox vaccine, antibodies to treat botox, sophisticated devices that can confirm a case of anthrax infection almost instantly. We will ensure that promising medicines are available for use in an emergency. Like other great scientific efforts, Project BioShield will have many applications beyond its immediate goals. As scientists work to defeat the weapons of bioterror, they will gain new insights into the workings of other diseases. This will also break new ground in the search for treatments and cures for other illnesses. This could bring great benefits for all of humanity, especially in developing countries where infectious diseases often go uncontrolled.

America's war on terror has tested this nation, has tested our resolve, our will, our determination, and I'm confident that we can call upon our resources and strengths to prevail. There is no doubt in my mind, the men and women of our scientific community are among this country's greatest strengths. HIV/AIDS once meant only terrible suffering and certain death. Now in America, there are life-extending treatments for AIDS, treatments we are going to share across the world.

This great, and strong, and mighty nation will not only work to keep the peace, we will work to make sure society is a more compassionate place. We weep for those who suffer on the continent of Africa, and we intend to do something about it. (Applause.)

Our scientists have made significant gains in curing some forms of cancer. And we're going to continue to work hard to make sure that we make progress to curing all of cancer.

Illnesses that haunted other generations, such as polio and measles, are now part of the past because of the vision and ingenuity of the men and women who work here in NIH. This new century brings an urgent need to apply this vision and ingenuity to the defense of this nation. And you are up for the task.

I look forward to working with the United States Congress to get Project BioShield out of its committees, onto the floor, onto my desk, so you all can work on behalf of the American people, so you can use your God-given talents, your fantastic brains, your clear vision to better protect America. This is the right course of action. This is what we owe the American people. And this is what we will deliver.

It is such an honor to be here, a place of healing and hope, a place of genius and vision. Again, I want to thank you all very much for your hard and tireless work, on behalf of a grateful nation.

May God bless what you do, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

END 2:20 P.M. EST