Sometimes you’d rather be wrong than right. In the late 1990s, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) employee Steven Bice wrote a paper recommending that the country create a national pharmaceutical stockpile for a variety of reasons. One of them was the possibility that there could be a bioterrorist attack on U.S. soil, and our country was ill-prepared to respond. Fast-forward to late 2001. 9/11 confirmed Mr. Bice’s suspicions that our enemies were capable of inconceivable evil, and weeks later our country was attacked with anthrax. The good news is Congress acted on the warning that had been sounded by Mr. Bice and others. In 1999, it created a pharmaceutical stockpile which actually helped with the immediate response to the 9/11 attacks. And since that time, Mr. Bice has led the rapid expansion of this program and other efforts which make up the backbone of our defenses against biological attack.
Initially, the budget for the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (NPS), which Mr. Bice headed from its inception, was $50 million a year. Their first mission was preparing for Y2K, and their main focus was to develop “push packs” of medical supplies that could be delivered anywhere in the country within 12 hours. The NPS would eventually deploy a push package with more than 50 tons of medical material to New York City within seven hours of the 9/11 attacks. And NPS coordinated more than 60 timely deliveries of medicines to 10 states and the District of Columbia to protect citizens during the anthrax crisis.
After these two incidents, it was clear that the stockpile needed to be expanded. NPS’s annual budget was increased to $400 million, and it is slated to increase up to $600 million in the coming years. With the explosion in the budget, the entire concept of the operation has changed. They changed their name to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and added countermeasures for not only bioterrorism but also chemical and nuclear threats. One of the first initiatives of the expanded SNS was to stockpile enough smallpox vaccine to vaccinate the entire U.S. population and develop plans for administering this medicine.
The new SNS is not just about deploying medicines. It is designed to get expert people on the ground who can administer drugs and coordinate the response efforts. It is also prepared to respond to a wide variety of emergencies including natural disasters. Since 2003, Steven Bice has managed continuous deployments of critical medical staff throughout the world to address SARS, Avian flu, the Challenger disaster and the tsunami in Southeast Asia.
Besides his responsibility as the Director of the SNS, Bice has also set up the Emergency Operations Center for CDC. This Center grew out of the Strategic National Stockpile and now stands on its own. It provides the CDC director the ability to manage critical disease detection, monitor the transportation of hazardous material across the country and direct immediate response efforts through a network of more than 8,000 domestic and international staff. Mr. Bice personally oversaw the establishment of this center and the training of its personnel in incident management.
Steven Bice has proven himself to be not only a true visionary with his early recognition of the need for the SNS but also a first-rate manager. His success in getting two new entities operational in a short amount of time and under so much pressure is an astounding achievement. Most of the time, you’d rather be right than wrong, and federal leaders certainly made the right call when they tapped Steven Bice to lead the effort to protect our country from a public health disaster.
This medalist was the recipient of the Homeland Security Medal. This medal was combined with the Justice and Law Enforcement category in 2013, and renamed the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal in 2020.