Wednesday, October 12, 2005

There are calls from some groups to replace White House Staff
From Moveon:

The Bush administration point man for a flu pandemic, Stewart Simonson, has no public health management experience yet the lives of millions of people are counting on him. Will you ask Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt to replace Simonson with a more qualified person?

Sign the Petition
Dear MoveOn member,

We've all heard the terrible warnings about the risk of an influenza pandemic from an avian flu virus. But the Bush administration official in charge of making sure America is ready has no experience related to his job—he's a political appointee. And, a botched response could affect millions of Americans.

Stewart Simonson is the Bush administration's point man for a flu pandemic but he has no public health management experience. He got his job because he is a close associate of former Health & Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.1 Will you urge that Simonson be replaced with a more qualified person by signing our petition to Simonson's boss, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt? Click below to sign.

Your action today will draw attention to Simonson when we deliver the petitions, and will pressure Leavitt into acting. After you sign please forward this e-mail to your friends, family and colleagues.

Simonson is Assistant Secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). His job before joining HHS was as corporate secretary and counsel for Amtrak when Thompson was chief of the rail service. Prior to Amtrak, Simonson was staff lawyer for Thompson when he was governor of Wisconsin.2 In short, he is not qualified for a public health job that hundreds of millions of people are counting on.

This isn't just a case of resume inflation. Simonson doesn't seem to have a grasp on the very important work he is supposed to be doing right now. At a hearing in the House of Representatives in July, Simonson claimed he had the money he needed to purchase influenza vaccine and antiviral medication.3 The very next day, his office submitted a funding request to Congress seeking an additional $150 million for flu vaccine and antiviral medication.4 Last month the Congress gave another $4 billion for the effort.5

The Department of Health and Human Services is about to announce a new influenza plan. They need a highly qualified and respected professional at the helm when implementation of the plan begins. That is why it is urgent that Leavitt replace Simonson immediately. Why petition Leavitt? It is likely Leavitt will be more responsive than President Bush or even Congress. He wants a scandal-free campaign to prepare for a flu pandemic. Will you sign our petition to replace Simonson with somebody with expert credentials?

The revelations about Simonson's lack of experience couldn't come at a more challenging time. On Saturday The New York Times reported that the nation is gravely unprepared for a flu pandemic after obtaining a draft of the HHS influenza plan. We have only 2 percent of the courses of antiviral treatments we'll need. The plan predicts a worst-case scenario in which nearly 2 million Americans would die and 8.5 million would be hospitalized. Costs would exceed $450 billion. Finally, the report says we need to expand vaccine manufacturing capacity by more than ten fold.6

There are qualified people who could do this important job. Simonson replaced a genuine expert, Jerome Hauer, who had served as Director of Emergency Management for New York City and led the George Washington University Response to Emergencies and Disasters Institute.7

Many people are calling Simonson the "next Michael Brown" in reference to the lack of experience of the former FEMA director who botched the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a fact sheet about cronyism in the Bush administration that blew the whistle on Simonson.8

The threat of an influenza pandemic is very serious. The 1918 flu pandemic is estimated to have killed 50 million people—the largest numbers dying in just weeks. In the 1950s and 1960s smaller flu pandemics in the United States killed tens of thousands.9 Our government needs a serious response to this serious threat. Please act today.

Thanks for all you do.

–Tom, Matt, Adam, Carrie and the Political Action Team
Wednesday, October 12, 2005

P.S. Simonson's post as head of the Office of Public Health and Emergency Preparedness includes some very serious responsibilities. Here is the list right off of the Health and Human Services Department website.10 In fairness a lot of this work is being done by long-time experts or career government employees who report to Simonson, but he's bottom-line responsible. Here are some things Simonson's office is supposed to do:

Execute Project BioShield—to accelerate the process of research, development, purchase, and availability of effective countermeasures against agents of bioterror.
Coordinate HHS-wide research and development program efforts that are focused on medical countermeasures to combat Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Provide coordination with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department Of Defense (DOD) and other agencies on issues relating to Research & Development and acquisition of medical countermeasures.
Lead the U.S. Government efforts to identify requirements for medical countermeasures for defense against Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Provide risk management of medical countermeasures acquisition programs.
Leads the planning activities required to fulfill HHS responsibilities under National Response Plan.
Acquire medical equipment and supplies for use in the federal response to catastrophic public health and medical emergency preparedness.
Integrates mass casualty preparedness activities, through its surge capacity planning efforts, across all levels of government.
Works closely with the Health Resources and Services Administration on its programs for hospital bioterrorism preparedness, volunteer health professionals, and terrorism-related education and training for health care professionals.
Leads HHS response activities under the National Response Plan.
Manages the Secretary's Operations Center.
Trains and directs the Secretary's Emergency Response Teams.
Coordinates and executes the HHS Continuity of Operations (COOP) and Continuity of Government (COG) programs.
Plans, implements and evaluates Departmental and interagency response exercises.
Develops security related policies establishing procedures to manage the Department's risks, threats and vulnerabilities.
Serves as the focal point for all international activities related to public health emergency preparedness.
Coordinates overall influenza pandemic effort and with HHS components (e.g., CDC, NIH, FDA), the Department of State, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that programs for dealing with avian influenza and plans for dealing with pandemic influenza are as effective as possible.
Oversee development of medical policies related to providing access to medical products that have not been approved for marketing in the U.S. but must be made available on an emergency basis as medical countermeasures to counteract terrorism or naturally occurring biological, chemical or radiological/nuclear threats.
Carry out special scientific and public health oriented projects to establish activities, programs, and standards to protect the public from bioterrorism and naturally occurring infectious disease threats.
Work with other nations and multilateral organizations in combating public health threats, emergencies, and bioterrorism by establishing bilateral and multi-national international partnerships to develop early warning surveillance capability for infectious disease outbreaks, including those involving potential bioterrorism agents.
Provides HHS leadership in the activities of the Biological Weapon Convention and the Global Health Security Action Group.

"Is this 'disaster leader' another Michael Brown?" Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, October 8, 2005.

"Can flu guru do the job? Critics question his credentials." Boston Herald, October 7, 2005.

Stewart Simonson Testimony Before the Committee on Government Reform, July 14, 2005

Office of Management and Budget, Fiscal 2006 Budget Amendments, July 15, 2005.

"Senate approves $4 bln to fight bird flu" Reuters, September 29, 2005.

"Bush Plan Shows U.S. Is Not Ready for Deadly Flu." The New York Times, October 8, 2005.

Bio of Jerome Hauer. Fleishman-Hillard Government Relations. October 12, 2005

"Fact Sheet: Cronyism in the Bush administration." Rep. Henry Waxman, Ranking Minority Member. Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives.

Wikipedia entry on Influenza. October 12, 2005

Website of Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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