Event Details


Wednesday, Oct 10, 2018 - Wednesday, Oct 10, 2018


12:15 pm


LBJ School of Public Affairs, SRH 3.122

Evolution of Biodefense Policy

Evolution of Biodefense Policy

Wednesday, Oct 10, 2018 - Wednesday, Oct 10, 2018  |  12:15 pm   |  LBJ School of Public Affairs, SRH 3.122

Dr. Robert Kadlec joined the Robert Strauss Center and the Intelligence Studies Project for a presentation on the evolution of biodefense policy on October 10, 2018. As the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Kadlec leads national preparedness and response efforts for medical and public health emergencies. The talk was part of the Strauss Center's Brumley Speaker Series and was co-sponsored by the Intelligence Studies Project.

Photos of the event can be found here. A video of the event is available here.


Dr. Kadlec’s presentation traced the long history of U.S. biodefense policy, from George Washington’s smallpox variolation to the National Biodefense Strategy enacted this September. U.S. biological warfare efforts – both offensive and defensive – peaked under the FDR administration amid concerns about Axis nations’ bioweapons programs. After President Nixon eventually ended the offensive biological weapons program in 1969 the U.S. pivoted exclusively to defensive research, as permitted in the international Biological Weapons Convention.


The ensuing American strategy for biodefense, according to Dr. Kadlec, has been one of “progressive incrementalism.” U.S. policy has been built through a patchwork of legislative and executive actions, the most recent being the 2018 National Biodefense Strategy and the reauthorization of the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act (which established the ASPR position in 2006).


The key to addressing biosecurity is to practice deterrence by denial, Dr. Kadlec said. By improving our detection, response, and recovery, we can mitigate the impact of biological incidents and reduce the risk of strategic surprise. But though these preparatory measures are enabled by the structure under the new biodefense strategy, efforts are always challenged by budgetary and resource constraints. U.S. biodefense spending is currently around $7 billion per year, Dr. Kadlec said, less than half the cost of a single aircraft carrier. “Bioincidents are no longer a public health problem,” he said, “they are a national security problem.”


Dr. Kadlec spent more than 20 years as a career officer and physician in the United States Air Force before retiring as a Colonel.  Over the course of his career, he has held senior positions in the White House, the U.S. Senate, and the Department of Defense. Most recently, he served as the Deputy Staff Director to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Dr. Kadlec previously served as staff director for Senator Richard Burr’s subcommittee on bioterrorism and public health in the 109th Congress. In that capacity, he was instrumental in 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.

Dr. Kadlec also served at the White House from 2002 to 2005 as director for biodefense on the Homeland Security Council, where he was responsible for conducting the biodefense end-to-end assessment, which culminated in drafting the National Biodefense Policy for the 21st Century. He served as Special Assistant to President George W. Bush for Biodefense Policy from 2007 to 2009.

Earlier in his career, he served as the Special Advisor for Counter proliferation Policy at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he assisted DOD efforts to counter chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats in the wake of 9/11 and contributed to the FBI investigation of the anthrax letter attacks. He began his career as a flight surgeon for the 16th Special Operations Wing and subsequently served as a surgeon for the 24th Special Tactics Squadron and as Special Assistant to J-2 for Chemical and Biological Warfare at the Joint Special Operations Command.  He was named U.S. Air Force Flight Surgeon of the Year in 1986.

Dr. Kadlec holds a bachelor’s degree from the United States Air Force Academy, a doctorate of medicine and a master’s degree in tropical medicine and hygiene from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, as well as a master’s degree in national security studies from Georgetown University.

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