Tommy Thompson, U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary

This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, February 5, 2003, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Bioterror. It's a nerve-wracking word that's certainly on the minds of many Americans these days. A new budget push by President Bush just might cure some of that angst. The president recently announcing Project Bioshield, pushing funding and resources to protect Americans from future biological, chemical, or nuclear attacks. Joining me now from Washington is Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who is getting about a 3 percent increase in his budget.

Secretary, always good to see you. Thanks for coming.

TOMMY THOMPSON, U.S. HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, thank you, Neil. It's good to be with you, my friend.

CAVUTO: Bioterror, this is going to be a costly undertaking just getting to the bottom of it.

THOMPSON: Oh, it really is. Just for instance, we're already spending billions of dollars, $4.3 billion this year, in fiscal year 2002. We're expecting the same amount in fiscal year 2003. And in fiscal year 2004 on top of that the president and administration are pushing a new concept, Bioshield, which will be $6 billion over five years. And this is to develop antibiotics, vaccines for those bioterrorism agents that could really could cause havoc with our economy and really put in jeopardy several thousands of American lives. And that's botulism toxins, that's anthrax, that's smallpox and that's the hemorrhagic fever viruses and plague and.

CAVUTO: So this is all of these potential threats being addressed. What do you think is the most likely or the one we have to be the most worried about right now?

THOMPSON: The administration and myself, personally, Neil, are the most concerned about smallpox and anthrax and botulinum toxins. Botulinum toxin can get into our food and that would cause tremendous havoc with our economy, with our distribution of food and also could cause the death of several thousands of people, if in fact, we could not control it. That's why it is so important for us to be on the alert and be able to get prepared to respond very quickly. And I'm very confident that we can do all of those things.

CAVUTO: Secretary, I know there's not much you can see say when you're dealing with some top secret threats that come your way. But has there been an attempt on the part of terrorists to target our food or water supply?

THOMPSON: Well, Neil, there are constant threats, as you can well imagine, that are coming into our country every single day. And some of them are on embassies, some of them are on chemical and biological and radiological. Some of them deal with buildings. Some of them deal with the transportation system. And some deal with food and water. How credible they are, that always depends upon, you know, where the source is, and whether or not they have the capabilities of accomplishing what they are talking about.

CAVUTO: Now, you have a great deal under your thicket to deal with, but you got a fairly nominal increase to deal with it. So do you have enough resources, manpower and money to deal with it?

THOMPSON: Absolutely, Neil. Before I came into being secretary of health and human services, there was very little money being spent on bioterrorism because we didn't expect that to be a real concern. There was talk about it, but since we have been there we've been able to ramp up. And last year we put out $1.1 billion to the states. We'll be able to increase that to about $1.5 billion this year, to really put together a very integrated local, state and national public health system. And now on top of that, we're going to get a 2.6 percent increase on our discretionary budget. But overall, our total budget is going to grow by 7 percent up to about $540 billion, which will be the largest budget in the federal government, Neil.

CAVUTO: You know, Secretary, what a lot of folks worry is as soon as we come to conflict with Iraq, which most people seem to think is inevitable, that's when you get the tit-for-tat. In other words, something bad is going to happen here. Is that a gimme?

THOMPSON: I think that we have to be very alert. And that's what we're trying do, we're using the old boy scout model, "be prepared." And that's what the Department of Health and Human Services is all about, is getting prepared for the probability of a response from Iraq or Al Qaeda or some terrorist group.

CAVUTO: I'm sorry, sir, a response in this country?

THOMPSON: Well, I think there's going to be a response. We don't know where it is going to be. But you can pretty much expect a response from the terrorists, wherever it may be. It may be in Europe. It may be in Europe. It could be in the United States. That's why we have to be prepared.

CAVUTO: Finally, the likelihood that we are going to be dealing with this sooner rather than later, what do you say?

THOMPSON: I think that there's no question that sometime in the near future we're going to be hit with some kind of bioterrorism attack. We're expecting it. And we don't know when or where or what they are going to hit us with. But there's so much talk out there, I think you can expect that there's going to be something in the future.

CAVUTO: All right. Secretary, thank you very much. Good seeing you.

THOMPSON: Good seeing you, Neil.

CAVUTO: Secretary Tommy Thompson.

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