Trump Fired the Entire U.S. Pandemic Response Chain of Command in 2018

Dr. Nancy Sullivan of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases briefs President Barack Obama on Ebola research, Dec. 2, 2014. NIH, CC

The longer Donald Trump is in office, the greater the risk that the corruption and incompetence at the top of the U.S. government will cause or contribute to a large-scale disaster — something like a Category 5 hurricane that hits the mainland, a 7.0 or greater quake in the West or on the New Madrid Fault in the East, or, as seems to be increasingly likely, a coronavirus pandemic that could affect every state in the Union.

When you factor in how badly, and deliberately, Republicans have mismanaged and abused the healthcare system over the past two decades, a nationwide outbreak of the virus is a truly frightening prospect. The irony is, the states likely to be most affected, the ones that are most unprepared and under-resourced, are the red states, where Trump and the GOP are most popular.

Compounding this, in 2018 Trump “fired the the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White management infrastructure,” according to Laurie Garret, writing in the journal, Foreign Policy:

In numerous phone calls and emails with key agencies across the U.S. government, the only consistent response I encountered was distressed confusion. If the United States still has a clear chain of command for pandemic response, the White House urgently needs to clarify what it isIf the United States still has a clear chain of command for pandemic response, the White House urgently needs to clarify what it is—not just for the public but for the government itself, which largely finds itself in the dark.

When Ebola broke out in West Africa in 2014, President Barack Obama recognized that responding to the outbreak overseas, while also protecting Americans at home, involved multiple U.S. government departments and agencies, none of which were speaking to one another. Basically, the U.S. pandemic infrastructure was an enormous orchestra full of talented, egotistical players, each jockeying for solos and fame, refusing to rehearse, and demanding higher salaries—all without a conductor. To bring order and harmony to the chaos, rein in the agency egos, and create a coherent multiagency response overseas and on the homefront, Obama anointed a former vice presidential staffer, Ronald Klain, as a sort of “epidemic czar” inside the White House, clearly stipulated the roles and budgets of various agencies, and placed incident commanders in charge in each Ebola-hit country and inside the United States. The orchestra may have still had its off-key instruments, but it played the same tune.

Trump killed the pandemic response system for the same petty, political reason he’s done so many other things that have wrecked the government — because it was established during the Obama administration:

In the spring of 2018, the White House pushed Congress to cut funding for Obama-era disease security programs, proposing to eliminate $252 million in previously committed resources for rebuilding health systems in Ebola-ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Under fire from both sides of the aisle, President Donald Trump dropped the proposal to eliminate Ebola funds a month later. But other White House efforts included reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS. And the government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated.

Given how quickly and easily the virus spreads — 30,000 infections have reported worldwide as of Feb. 7, 2020, up from just five cases a month ago — it is all but inevitable that the pandemic will hit the United States before spring.

That dire prospect is made even worse because, at least as of today, the Trump administration appears unready to respond to a health disaster on such a large scale.

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6 thoughts on “Trump Fired the Entire U.S. Pandemic Response Chain of Command in 2018”

  1. There seems to be a suggestion here that there is no real Incident Management Team or process left? Is that the case?

  2. Mind reading?

    “Trump killed the pandemic response system for the same petty, political reason he’s done so many other things that have wrecked the government — because it was established during the Obama administration:”

    I don’t claim to know your motives as a journalist.:)

    1. So, their motives to write this are partisan, even though it’s something we DEFINITELY need to know?
      That is suuuch willful ignorance.

  3. Trump has Obama derangement syndrome. He has tried to or killed everything good Obama did just because Obama did it. 44 > 45 and that rots 45s socks.

  4. Actually, Obama had no response in place for Ebola, and didn’t have any plans to shut down travel from affected areas, even letting exposed persons to “self-quarantine.” Despite Ebola having a 40-50% fatality rate, and recovering victims shedding virus in body fluids for up to 3 months.
    Trump immediately shut down travel, brought back Americans and their families from the area, and has appropriately screened and quarantined recent arrivals.
    Don’t make this about politics…there are many failures in healthcare and political party has little do do with it! Fear porn at it’s finest.

  5. When Ebola broke out in West Africa in 2014, President Barack Obama recognized that responding to the outbreak overseas, while also protecting Americans at home, involved multiple U.S. government departments and agencies, none of which were speaking to one another. Basically, the U.S. pandemic infrastructure was an enormous orchestra full of talented, egotistical players, each jockeying for solos and fame, refusing to rehearse, and demanding higher salaries—all without a conductor. To bring order and harmony to the chaos, rein in the agency egos, and create a coherent multiagency response overseas and on the homefront, Obama anointed a former vice presidential staffer, Ronald Klain, as a sort of “epidemic czar” inside the White House, clearly stipulated the roles and budgets of various agencies, and placed incident commanders in charge in each Ebola-hit country and inside the United States. The orchestra may have still had its off-key instruments, but it played the same tune.

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