Obama’s Department Heads Discuss Their Accomplishments and Priorities, Including Swine Flu, Aviation Security
January 27, 2010 - 9:38 AMBefore President Obama delivers his State of the Union speech Wednesday night, each of his Cabinet heads are delivering their own videotaped summaries of the year past and their priorities for 2010.
The short videos, available on the White House Web site, were prepared by department heads at Obama’s request, said Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president.
In a message announcing the videos, Jarrett notes that Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “talks about the Department of Health and Human Services' successes helping to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus; Department of Energy Secretary Chu highlights the thousands of green jobs they’ve created using Recovery Act dollars; and Secretary Clinton details the Department of State’s efforts to restore global partnerships.”
In her video, however, Sebelius does not use the word “success” to describe the government’s botched effort to deliver H1N1 vaccine on the timetable set by her department.
“In 2009, we dealt with the H1N1 flu outbreak and the effort to reform our health care system,” Sebelius says. And that’s all she says about the relatively mild swine flu strain that had panicked parents waiting in long lines for hours to get their children inoculated.
Demand for the vaccine – driven partly by repeated warnings from the Obama administration – far outstripped supply last fall.
On Oct. 28, 2009, Sebelius admitted, “We are saddened and unhappy about certainly the level of illness and the deaths caused by H1N1 flu and…share the frustration of Americans who are eager to be vaccinated. There's no question, (vaccine) production started more slowly than anyone would have liked.”
She said the Obama administration knew all along that there would not be enough H1N1 vaccine to cover all at-risk Americans.
In her videotaped “state of HHS” message, Sebelius also mentions her department’s efforts to rebuild the nation’s food safety system, crack down on Medicare fraud, expand community health centers, and make a “historic investment in biomedical research.”
In 2010, Sebelius said HHS will “continue to deliver essential services to our most vulnerable populations, and we’ll work to make sure that all Americans have access to high-quality health care.”
President Obama’s year-long effort to get Congress to pass a universal-access health care bill appears to be on indefinite hold, however.
At a press conference last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, "I don't think it's possible to pass the Senate bill in the House.”
"I don't see the votes for it at this time," she added.
Aviation security a priority for 2010
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in her video summary of 2009, cites her department’s work to “secure our country and build a more ready and resilient nation against the many threats we face.”
After the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner over Michigan, Napolitano came under fierce criticism for saying that “the system worked,” when in fact a failure to connect various pieces of intelligence information allowed a would-be bomber to get on the plane with explosives in his underwear.
On her department’s priorities for 2010, Napolitano said HHS will “strengthen aviation security with new technology” and launch an effort to boost international global security standards.
“We will bolster information sharing so that our men and women on the front lines have the tools they need to confront and disrupt terrorist threats,” Napolitano said.
Information sharing was one of the key recommendations of the congressionally appointed 9/11 task force, which issued its findings almost six years ago -- on July 22, 2004.
Napolitano also mentioned that in the year ahead, her department will “pursue comprehensive immigration reform, to address longstanding problems with our immigration system.”