Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

In a floor speech honoring the nation's federal employees, Sen. Kaufman applauds Denise Johnson for her work at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

June 25, 2009

Mr. KAUFMAN. Madam President, once again I rise to honor a Federal employee whose service to our Nation is exemplary. Before I do, I want to thank my distinguished colleague from Mississippi, Senator Cochran, for his June 11 statement about Federal employees. It is my great pleasure to join with him and other Senators to recognize the enormous contributions to the security and prosperity of our country by those who work in the Federal Government.

Madam President, last week, I shared the story of a Federal employee who spent his career working at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. He helped design and test the advanced missile systems used by our military to defend our ideals overseas. This week, I wish to share the story of a Federal employee who also works to advance our interests overseas--that of humanitarian good works. Both are vital to our global leadership.

I have spoken before about the groundbreaking medical research performed by Federal employees at the National Institutes of Health. The advances in medicine and biotechnology pioneered by those working at NIH keep America's health care the most innovative in the world. Yet making breakthroughs and developing treatments are only a part of how the Federal Government is helping to promote global health. One of our foreign policy and humanitarian priorities is to expand access to new medications and health technologies among those who live in the developing world.

The hard-working men and women of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are at the forefront of initiatives to bring lifesaving medicines to those in greatest need. Foremost, the CDC monitors, prevents, and, if necessary, contains the outbreak of deadly diseases in the United States, such as West Nile and Swine Flu. Part of this effort is a push to eradicate some of the most dangerous viruses throughout the world.

With the lens of Congress now focused on our health care system, so much has been said about its shortcomings. Yet for all the problems we face on this front, Americans are blessed with freedom from fear of diseases that afflicted previous generations.

When I was young, tens of thousands of children each year were stricken with polio. In the early part of the 20th century, polio outbreaks occurred in the United States with deadly frequency. Parents used to keep their children home and away from their peers. Many became paralyzed or had to make use of the iron lung. We have all seen those famous images of President Franklin Roosevelt seated behind his desk in the Oval Office signing New Deal programs into law and overseeing a World War against the enemies of liberty. But at the same time, few Americans knew that behind that desk our President sat in a wheelchair, his legs paralyzed from his own battle with polio.

Today, in parts of Africa and South Asia, hundreds of children each year still develop polio. While children in developing nations routinely receive the Salk or Sabin vaccines, this is a luxury for rural villagers in places such as India, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The CDC has set a goal of vaccinating every child on Earth. Leading this charge over the past decade, Denise Johnson serves as the Acting Chief of the CDC's Polio Eradication Branch.

Before she was recruited to direct this project, Denise served for 6 years as the manager of the CDC's Family and Intimate Partner Violence Prevention Program. In this role, she oversaw the promotion of nonviolent, respectful relationships through community and social change initiatives. This was around the time that Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, which was one of the proudest achievements of my friend and predecessor, Vice President Joseph Biden, during his career in the Senate.

When asked why Denise was highly sought after to work on the polio project, one of her supervisors at the CDC said:

If you do a good job keeping women and children from being beaten, you can eradicate polio.

With Denise at the helm, the Polio Eradication Branch has been working in close concert with the World Health Organization and UNICEF to promote immunization. In her first few years alone, Denise and her team helped immunize over a half billion--let me repeat that, a half billion--children in 93 countries.

From her office in Atlanta, Denise oversees a staff of over 40 professionals working overseas. Her effective leadership has proven to be a key factor in the program's success. Denise administers the purchase and distribution of over 200 million doses of the oral polio vaccine--bought for a mere 63 cents per dose--and routinely serves as a field consultant in polio hotspots around the world. In fact, Denise is in Kenya right now, taking the fight against polio straight to the front lines.

Twenty years ago, there were over 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries, but today there are fewer than 2,000 cases. That is 350,000 cases down to 2,000 cases because of the diligent work performed by Denise and the rest of her team at the CDC's Polio Eradication Branch. It is only a matter of time before this disease no longer threatens our world's children.

Madam President, Denise is just one of so many Federal employees who have dedicated their lives to serving the greater good. She and her team are truly engaged in what President Obama has called ``repairing the world.'' Their work saves lives and helps demonstrate our Nation's commitment to humanitarian leadership in the global community.

I hope my colleagues will join me in honoring Denise Johnson and her team for their outstanding work, as well as the important contributions made by all of our excellent public servants.

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