A panicked Trump administration has announced it will ask Congress for at least $2.5 billion in additional funding to fight the Coronavirus. Democrats had called for additional funding weeks ago, but the administration only moved forward with their request on February 24.
“The President’s priority is protecting the homeland, and the Administration is working aggressively to minimize the risk of the virus spreading in the United States,” OMB Director Russell Vought wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
Unfortunately, the administration’s sudden desire to “protect the homeland” from a possible pandemic doesn’t jibe with some of its previous actions. For example, in 2018 the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure.
After the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, President Obama brought order to the U.S. government’s disorganized approach to fighting pandemics; a chaotic mess in which many agencies were involved, but with none of them really communicating with each other.
Obama created the position 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 Obama administration then set up a permanent epidemic monitoring and command group inside the White House National Security Council and another in the Department of Homeland Security.
The Trump administration has undone all of this. It has slashed the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS. The government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated.
In May 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s entire global health security unit shut down, calling for reassignment of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer and dissolution of his team inside the agency. The month before, then-White House National Security Advisor John Bolton pressured Ziemer’s DHS counterpart, Tom Bossert, to resign along with his team.
Neither the NSC nor DHS epidemic teams have been replaced. The global health section of the CDC was so drastically cut that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries it was working in was reduced from 49 to merely 10.
Microsoft founder and philanthropist billionaire Bill Gates has warned that ongoing cuts to the global health disease infrastructure would render the United States vulnerable to, as he put it, the “significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes.”
On February 20 the CDC confirmed the first human-to-human spread of the Coronavirus inside the United States, between a husband and wife in Chicago. While the wife acquired her infection traveling in China, she passed the virus to her husband on return to the United States.
Only six Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the United States so far, with no deaths. However, Nancy Messonnier of the CDC has said, “Moving forward, we can expect to see more cases, and more cases mean the potential for more person-to-person spread.”
An independent, bipartisan panel formed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded that lack of preparedness was so acute in the Trump administration that the “United States must either pay now and gain protection and security or wait for the next epidemic and pay a much greater price in human and economic costs.”
The “next epidemic” is now at our own doorstep. Only time will tell how much of a price the United States will pay for the Trump administration’s past gross incompetence, and its present half-baked, disorganized response.