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.
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Good morning, Chairwoman Eshoo and Ranking Member
Thank you for your invitation. It's my pleasure to
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
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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, 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.
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
I can confirm that the emails in
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.
Directive 21 direct download
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:
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