Twenty years of federal planning for pandemics
November 17, 2020 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Lots of plans, no coordination or authority "To summarize, the acronyms of those agencies that are supposed to organize a response to a communicable disease crisis include, but are not limited to, the ASPR, CDC, DGMQ, NCEZID, USSG, HHS, FEMA, FDA, NIAID, DOD, DHS, NSC, CTF, and associated sub-agencies and divisions and offices. Inside these agencies, there are dozens of intelligent and accomplished individuals, often from bipartisan or civil service backgrounds, who are supposed to lead in a crisis. The problem is that those people have no clear lines of authority about who is supposed to coordinate them or be in charge, and no clear plan to follow even if such authority were provided."
posted by Nancy Lebovitz (24 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
That was educational. Thanks for posting.
posted by latkes at 7:57 AM on November 17 [2 favorites]


It reads like the problems with not detecting 9/11, response to Katrina, etc. This is pretty much par for the course with anything done at the Federal level. The US system of government is very distributed and loathes to put too much power in any one person or board so these sorts of scenarios keep happening.
posted by jmauro at 8:25 AM on November 17 [2 favorites]


I mean. Most of these agencies are part of the Executive Branch, which means that, ultimately, it is the President's responsibility to coordinate them and be in charge. That link has a somewhat catastrophic failure state, unfortunately.
posted by eviemath at 8:46 AM on November 17 [29 favorites]


It does look like there are a mess of plans without coherence, but to write almost 4000 words on the lack of leadership during this pandemic and only mention Trump in passing... it's a pretty glaring omission.
posted by Behemoth, in no. 302-bis, with the Browning at 8:48 AM on November 17 [34 favorites]


Couple notes:
One, this was written in April, when it was still a little less obvious what a hands-off fuckup Trump would be.

Two, this guy has an ax to grind against government. Looks like he's part of the Cicero Institute, which is a newer organization set up by one of the other founders of Palantir. When it comes to those that want to blame the feds for everything, guilt by association is a thing. More specifically, I don't recall any mention of the "what to do in a pandemic" binders and seminars passed on from the Obama admin, that Trump's people tossed.
posted by notsnot at 9:02 AM on November 17 [36 favorites]


It was always obvious what a hands-off fuckup Trump would be, if the Cicero Institute hadn't figured that out by April I'm not impressed by their analytical capabilities.

> More specifically, I don't recall any mention of the "what to do in a pandemic" binders and seminars passed on from the Obama admin, that Trump's people tossed.

They did toss a few experts, I assume their binders went with them.
posted by Behemoth, in no. 302-bis, with the Browning at 9:14 AM on November 17 [7 favorites]


[...]include, but are not limited to, the ASPR, CDC, DGMQ, NCEZID, USSG, HHS, FEMA, FDA, NIAID, DOD, DHS, NSC, CTF
There's a fair amount of double counting here. ASPR is a job within HHS. DGMQ is within NCEZID, which in turn is within the CDC, which is part of HHS. NIAID, again, is part of HHS, as is FDA. And so on.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:38 AM on November 17 [20 favorites]


Even allowing for this being written in April Trump was actively on the side of the virus from day zero. He acted against best practices because it would suppress the DOW; he's too vain to accept a black mark on his record; getting States and Agencies to compete against each other opened up opportunities to grift; it allowed him to give xenophobic racist speeches at his ego stroking rallies; and besides, Covid was only killing people in blue states.

And then he managed to turn the #1 best way of thwarting the spread into a wedge issue by anti-science, anti-mask rhetoric.

All that after actively working against pre-planning by disbanding the Pandemic Response Team because they were "sitting around not doing anything/costing money" and "if we need them we can just hire them back" or words to that effect.

And then in May he withdrew from the WHO.

Nebulous "Federal Government" poor planning didn't cause the US pandemic shit show. Concerted effort by the GOP and the The Cheeto to undermine science and government planning and response did.

Like that fucker Reagan's non-response to the AIDS crisis the pandemic wasn't effecting the right (read amoral billionaires and wannabees) people.
posted by Mitheral at 9:44 AM on November 17 [29 favorites]


The UK And US Were Ranked Top For Pandemic Preparedness. What Went Wrong?
I'd think that political leaders who are philosophically opposed to government would not be the best leaders in a national crisis that needs government.
posted by mumimor at 9:47 AM on November 17 [13 favorites]


[...]include, but are not limited to, the ASPR, CDC, DGMQ, NCEZID, USSG, HHS, FEMA, FDA, NIAID, DOD, DHS, NSC, CTF


So what? All these TLAs are loaded with educated technocrats who can recognize each other's areas of competence and organize on that basis spontaneously if needed. When and if a turf war breaks out, the president can assign ranks and send everyone back to work. Shit like this might have cost us a day or two in a normally operating republic.

We're 8 months behind the curve. There must be some other reason.
posted by ocschwar at 10:14 AM on November 17 [9 favorites]


Two, this guy has an ax to grind against government

Throwing out an alphabet soup of acronyms to criticize the federal government is a tell that goes back to the New Deal.

A big organization is big. Not surprising. Most large corporations would get the same thing, as planning for a crisis often consists of telling departments to write plans. A one-plan "let the facilities department handle the natural disaster response" is actually zero plans. The centralizing instinct is a pretty lazy post-mortem.

Having a bunch of agencies with expertise and plans that are then coordinated by a task force that draws on these resources may be a good approach. In any event, it's effectiveness should not be judged by a task force that fights against experts in the government.
posted by mark k at 10:18 AM on November 17 [18 favorites]


So what?

So what? The French have a handy phrase that describes when some parts of the government "strike blows" against other parts.
posted by sideshow at 10:22 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]


This is a sleight of hand piece that throws letters at you pretends like the plans are all fluff and generalizations, when in fact, this piece is all fluff and generalizations. I would say it has an axe to grind but really it has a marshmallow to grind.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:26 AM on November 17 [14 favorites]


It reads like the problems with not detecting 9/11, response to Katrina, etc.

Yup, the proposed solutions to which were broader executive powers and the consolidation of a number of the alphabet soup agencies listed above under the DHS.

But yeah, anyone who's been paying attention to anything in the past 8 months will recognize the names of Azar, Fauci, and Birx, the three authorities named in this piece who in fact had purview over what could have been a multifaceted and robust pandemic response, if the catastrophic idiot at the top of the reporting chain had not consistently undermined, contradicted, obfuscated, and evaded their efforts and guidance.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:48 AM on November 17 [11 favorites]


When encountering slickly designed "institutes" online, my favorite thing to do is go to the Team page.

Oh, it's a founder of Palantir. And Stephen Harper. And Niall Ferguson.

The article at the top makes a whole lot more sense now.
posted by Ouverture at 10:50 AM on November 17 [32 favorites]


Oh fuck thanks Ouverture - the second I see Niall Ferguson's name I know to go find the salt so I can take everything with a grain of it (and the ipecac if that fails).
posted by aspersioncast at 11:05 AM on November 17 [3 favorites]


Stephen Harper. That Stephen Harper.

The guy whose antiscoience policies were so bad that scientists in the US used his actions as a guide for what to expect from Trump.
posted by ocschwar at 12:35 PM on November 17 [4 favorites]


Two, this guy has an ax to grind against government. Looks like he's part of the Cicero Institute, which is a newer organization set up by one of the other founders of Palantir.

Plus the author's name is Judge Glock. Like, come on libertarians, you're not even trying anymore.
posted by star gentle uterus at 1:33 PM on November 17 [6 favorites]


It's no wonder all this effort is wasted. It would difficult to legislate empowerment and authority for this type of planning and execution. Sadly, vast swaths of our Republic get to yelling and reeling around with their hair on fire at the mention of any kind of centralized government authority. Many people seem to conflate a sense of civic responsibility with subjugation and abject submission to a despotic collective of atheistic do-gooders. I find that to be ironic, if not just a little maddeningly absurd, given these same people are often the ones who jump to defend both the least and most egregious excesses of existing authoritarian actors in our system. I'm finding it harder and harder to believe we will ever have nice things.
posted by AJScease at 1:41 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


Thanks to all who clarified the ideology of the author.
posted by latkes at 2:10 PM on November 17 [5 favorites]


Another name here is Avik Roy. Avik, this is disappointing. I mean, this kind of copy is barely worthy of printing in Counterpoint.
posted by ocschwar at 5:20 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


Thanks, everyone. I still think more thought could have gone into coordinating plans, but the major failure is Trump not taking initiative.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 1:22 AM on November 18


The agencies were all set to put their plans in motion and did put their plans in motion, until the first roadblock came along (the faulty test that needed to drop one of three testing arrays to work properly).

At that point, the CDC needed executive authority to cut through some FDA red tape and expedite the process of authorizing the change so the tests would work as intended.

Then Trump deliberately did NOT do anything to get the testing working because he didn't want the numbers going up. We know this was exactly his reasoning because he said so.

That's in the "totally under control" documentary on netflix btw, which absolutely has an axe to grind. But if you want some concrete examples of the exact times the president's office failed to lead in this situation, you can watch that. Jared's task force in charge of finding more PPE by hiring unpaid interns to look for masks on amazon.com and make cold calls is another highlight.
posted by subdee at 4:51 AM on November 18


Plus the author's name is Judge Glock. Like, come on libertarians, you're not even trying anymore.

I saw that and assumed it was a tongue-in-cheek pseudonym, but no, he is right there on the organization's website.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:09 AM on November 18


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