Shelby Statement at Full Committee Hearing on Ebola Outbreak

WASHINGTON, DC, Wednesday, November 12, 2014 – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today delivered opening remarks at a Full Committee hearing on the U.S. Government response to the Ebola outbreak.

The full text of Shelby’s remarks, as prepared, is below:

Thank you Madam Chair.

Today, we will discuss the administration’s $6 billion request to address the Ebola outbreak, both domestically and in West Africa.

Given the size of the request, the slow progress in detailing plans for how the money will be spent, and some of the missteps made so far, it deserves our careful oversight and scrutiny.

As we have seen in recent weeks, the vast majority of American health care professionals have little to no experience with this virus.  Therefore, the appearance of the disease on our shores can have devastating consequences for our health care system and our society at large. 

Consequently, it is the fundamental responsibility of the federal government to respond effectively to this crisis.  Every prudent step must be taken to protect the American people.

Instead of an effective response, however, what we have witnessed these past few months from various agencies has been confusing and at times contradictory.

For example, the CDC’s guidance to hospitals has been a moving target.  This uncertainty may have exposed health care professionals to unnecessary risks.

The administration has also sent mixed messages on the issue of quarantine.  While the President has discouraged strict quarantine rules, Defense Secretary Hagel has prudently put in place a 21-day mandatory quarantine for troops returning from West Africa.

In addition, the administration did not call for enhanced airport screenings for travelers entering the U.S. from West Africa until months after the epidemic became severe.  It still remains to be seen whether these cursory screenings will be effective.

Not surprisingly, Americans have been frustrated by the lack of clarity and coordination within their government. 

Even though the President has named a so-called Ebola “czar” to coordinate our response, all reports indicate that he has no actual authority to direct government agencies.

From the beginning of this outbreak, the administration has appeared to be preparing for only the best-case scenario.  Competent crisis planning, however, must include contingencies for the worst-case scenario as well.

Therefore, we should not rule out any reasonable options to prevent the reintroduction of Ebola in the U.S., including travel and visa restrictions.

If the history of disease outbreaks has taught us anything, it is that things can change quickly and without warning.  Therefore, our federal agencies must be ready to aggressively implement a clear and organized strategy.

It is my hope that today’s witnesses can assure this committee that the President has a plan and that the funds he has requested are necessary to execute it.

Thank you.