Mike Bowen

Statement to House Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce on COVID-19 Response

delivered 14 May 2020, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address

Written Testimony


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Good morning, Chairwoman Eshoo and Ranking Member Burgess.

Thank you for your invitation. It's my pleasure to testify.

My name is Michael Bowen and I am the Executive Vice President of Prestige Ameritech of North Richland Hills, Texas. And I have been in the medical industry since 1986, and with Prestige Ameritech since 2006. Prestige Ameritech was founded by president and CEO, Dan Reese in 2005. I'm going to give a brief overview of my interactions with BARDA [Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority] and its directors, but first I’ll give you some pertinent mask industry history.

Until 2004, 90% of all surgical masks worn [in the U.S.] -- and I'm -- I'm including surgical respirators -- were domestically made. That year, or about/around that year, all of the major domestic mask sellers switched from selling domestically made masks to selling imported masks.

Prestige Ameritech -- [that] was founded in 2005 -- recognized this as a [national] security issue in 2006. We thought that once America’s hospitals learned that their mask supplies were subject to diversion by foreign governments during pandemics, they would switch back to U.S.-made masks. We were wrong.

In November of 2007, we received a phone call from BARDA asking for a tour of our mask factory. BARDA was acting on George W. Bush’s Presidential Directive 21,1 the purpose of which was to review America’s disaster plans. Brenda Hayden with BARDA gave a presentation which showed that BARDA was concerned about the foreign-controlled mask
supply. We were thrilled that BARDA had discovered the issue -- until Brenda said that BARDA was only charged with studying the problem.

We were disappointed, but we took consolation in the fact that finally a federal agency knew that the mask supply was in danger. We were
very happy to have an ally.

Two years later, I received a call from Brenda Hayden. She started the conversation by saying, “We have a situation.” Her serious
tone caused me to ask her if she was talking about a pandemic, and she said yes. She asked if we could ramp up production, and I said yes.

We built more [mask] machines, bought an abandoned Kimberly Clark mask factory, tripled -- and tripled our workforce. America’s hospitals needed us and we rose to the occasion. We told them about the high cost of ramping up. And they -- And they said they would stay with us. Unfortunately, most returned to buying cheaper, foreign-made masks when they became available. The company survived by laying off 150 people (who helped save the U.S. masks supply), by taking pay cuts, and by taking on taking on more investors.

The H1N1 pandemic -- this was 2009-2010 -- wasn’t severe enough to cause the foreign health officials to cut off mask shipments to America, so our predictions didn’t come true -- yet. In a weakened state, but undaunted, Prestige Ameritech continued saying that the U.S. mask supply was headed for failure. We just didn’t know when.

In 20[14], to give my security story more issue, I formed the Secure
Mask Supply Association [SMSA]. You can find it at: securemasksupply.org. Paraphrasing Ben Franklin, I told three competing domestic mask makers that if we didn’t hang together we would hang separately,
2 as China was poised to put us all out of business, and put the country at even greater risk. Crosstex, Gerson, and Medicom, all with domestic mask making factories, agreed and joined the SMSA. Unfortunately, the Secure Mask Supply Association’s warnings were also unheeded.

During my quest to secure the U.S. mask supply, I had the privilege of working with three BARDA directors: Dr. Robin Robinson, Dr. Richard Hatchett, and Dr. Rick Bright. They were helpful and they encouraged me to continue warning people about the mask supply.

I'll say a little more about that. After years of doing this, I quit many times; and the only reason I kept doing it was because of the directors at BARDA. They would encourage me and ask me not to -- not to quit.

They said that they would express their concerns about the mask supply to anyone that I could get to call them -- anyone except reporters. They weren’t allowed to talk to reporters, which was very frustrating to me. They also weren’t allowed to endorse the Secure Mask Supply Association. Dr. Robinson was going to do so until HHS [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] attorneys told him that it could cost him his job. He called me personally on vacation to tell me that.

I can confirm that the emails in Dr. Bright’s complaint are mine. They are merely the latest of 13 years of emails I sent to BARDA in an effort to get HHS to understand that the U.S. mask supply was destined for failure. Robinson, Hatchett, and Bright all wanted to remedy the problem. In my opinion, they didn’t have enough authority. Their hearts were in the right places. America told -- America was told after 9/11 that governmental “silos” had been torn down so that different federal agencies could work together for national securit[y]. But I didn’t see any of that. The DOD [U.S. Department of Defense], the VA [U.S. Veterans Administration], the CDC [U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention], and HHS could have worked together to secure America’s mask supply. I had suggested this to BARDA and to the CDC on several occasions.

I will be happy to answer any questions that you have about Prestige Ameritech, the U.S. mask supply, or my interactions with BARDA, the CDC, or Rick Bright.

And again, it's my pleasure to be here.

Thank you.

1 Presidential Directive 21 direct download here

2 Quotation widely attributed to Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." [Example sources: https://www.americanheritage.com/we-mutually-pledge-each-other-our-lives-our-fortunes-and-our-sacred-honor; https://www.1902encyclopedia.com/F/FRA/benjamin-franklin.html]

Written Testimony (PDF) Source: energycommerce.house.gov

Page Updated: 5/22/20

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