President Barack Obama must name one single senior adviser to handle the Ebola crisis management worldwide and domestically, two senior congressional Republicans wrote to him on Monday.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) chairman Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) wrote to Obama:
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a health crisis of massive proportions. You have announced a government-wide response to address this crisis and help Africans before it becomes a threat to the United States. This requires a global response and the U.S. needs to provide the necessary leadership to control and eliminate this outbreak. We believe it is imperative that you designate a single, senior advisor who will be responsible for coordinating all U.S. agencies and policies involving the international and domestic response to Ebola.
Until now, President Obama’s response has been handled by several different government departments and agencies–and the seeming lack of U.S. government preparedness has been roundly criticized by Republicans in Congress and the media. At this time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense (DOD), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and more governmental agencies have been all involved in different manners in responding to the Ebola outbreak worldwide.
The DOD, under Secretary Chuck Hagel’s leadership, has sent thousands of U.S. troops into Africa to work to address the crisis there.
Underscoring the number of agencies involved in the effort, five officials spoke at a press conference last week: HHS secretary Sylvia Burwell, USAID administrator Dr. Raj Shah, Assistant to the president for Homeland Security Lisa Monaco, the U.S. military’s Commander of Africom Gen. David Rodriguez, and National Institute of Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci. Monaco, who spoke first at the press conference, said:
Today, we’re using a whole-of-government approach and response to control this epidemic at its source. And that’s evidenced by the people who are here with me today at the podium. We’re doing a number of things to address this epidemic at its source in West Africa, first and foremost. We are also enhancing our domestic preparedness and ability to respond to isolated cases here in the United States. And as importantly, we are rallying the international community to contribute to this response. And that was seen most recently when the President spoke at the United Nations last week, and when we had an unprecedented vote in the U.N. Security Council to contribute and to show galvanizing forces of the international community to contribute to this response.
The press conference came on the heels of the revelations that Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who was the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. in Dallas, allegedly misled U.S. immigration agents to get into the country after having come into contact with the disease in Liberia. After each of the government officials spoke–and announced no changes in the Obama administration’s Ebola crisis management strategy in the wake of the situation with Duncan–a reporter asked Burwell, the HHS secretary, if there were any “lessons learned” from the Dallas case, and how the administration might be “changing” its policies since then.
In her answer, Burwell did not point to any specific policy changes prompted by Duncan’s arrival.
“All we know are the critical steps that we have said throughout the process, and that is about identification. And identification at the point at which there actually is a temperature. And, as Dr. Fauci said, when something can be done,” Burwell said. “What we are doing is making sure that hospitals, health workers across the county know that when they see that, what steps to take, how to isolate, and what to do immediately when they see those steps. And we’ll continue to do that, and make sure that we are responding to the questions that we’re getting from the community.”
Shortly thereafter, on Fox News’ Special Report, DHS secretary Jeh Johnson confirmed there would be no changes in the administration’s policy of handling Ebola–specifically that flights wouldn’t be canceled.
Johnson said when anchor Bret Baier asked him why the administration has chosen to continue allowing flights to and from Liberia and other Ebola-stricken nations when it’s clear people can lie to get past screening:
As you just heard at the press conference at the White House, we’re bringing a whole government approach to this involving the resources of my department, the Department of Health and Human Services, CDC and the Department of Defense. We believe that the best way to attack this disease is at its source, first and foremost. So we’ve devoted a lot of resources in the three affected countries including the Department of Defense and CDC dealing with it there first and foremost. We are doing a number of other things at transit points, at arrival points, in terms of screening, alerting airlines and alerting the passengers themselves.
Politically, the letter from Wolf and Moran will put the spotlight back on Obama and not the alphabet soup of agencies and officials handling the response.
“As members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, we want to make sure resources are allocated most efficiently across the agencies responsible for the Ebola response in West Africa and disease control activities at home,” Wolf and Moran wrote to Obama. “Therefore, we respectfully request responses to the following questions regarding interagency coordination involved in the international and domestic response efforts.”
The questions they ask the president to answer include providing a detailed “organizational structure and chain of command for the entities participating in the interagency response” for both what’s happening on the ground in Africa and in the United States, and if the administration’s strategy on Ebola is similar to the “National Strategy on Pandemic Influenza” or if the administration has consulted that strategy in crafting this one. The letter went on:
With respect to the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) role in the interagency response to Ebola, are existing Concept Plans (CONPLANs) or Concept of Operations planning for infectious diseases being utilized in the organization of military capabilities in West Africa? For example, has the Administration referenced CONPLAN 3551-09 on pandemic influenza to determine requirements, responsibility, and recovery of civilians and military personnel involved in the interagency response to Ebola?
Wolf and Moran also asked the president, “What specific duties, missions, and responsibilities will be assigned to our nation’s servicemembers partaking in DoD’s role in daily operations in West Africa? What actions is the Administration taking to make sure American travelers are safe from Ebola abroad and domestically? Have enhanced screening techniques been implemented at U.S. airports?”
They gave President Obama an Oct. 17 deadline to respond to their letter, which gives him 11 days to answer their questions.
They also recommended a few names of former senior military and administration officials to handle the global Ebola response:
Finally, given the broad policy challenges posed by this Ebola outbreak, we encourage you to consider bringing well-respected former Administration officials with a background in public health and international diplomacy to assist with this serious challenge, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. Drawing on their expertise and international relationships, these respected statesmen could bolster your Administration’s efforts and help lead a united, global response to this serious threat to public health and security.