Where is the new White House Pandemic Response Office?

Where is the new White House Pandemic Response Office?

OASHINGTON — In the wake of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than one million Americans, Congress in December tasked the White House with creating a new permanent office to coordinate government preparedness for the next pandemic threat. .

The White House failed to get it up and running.

The office was intended to be a permanent solution for the White House’s continued need to hire “tsars” to handle public health threats like Ebola, AIDS, and Covid-19. But Biden has not named anyone to lead him, just a month before a crucial turning point in the administration’s response to the pandemic.

The Covid-19 public health emergency will end on May 11, and the Washington Post reported for the first time this date could lead to an official dismantling of the White House’s Covid-19 response team. The process has already begun, as several senior pandemic response officials have left in recent months. If the infrastructure is not maintained in the form of a new office soon, mustering the political will to create a new office will only become more difficult as people leave Covid and the presidential election approaches , two experts in response to the pandemic told STAT.

“The problem is, nobody really wants to think about pandemics between when they happen,” said Ken Bernard, who worked on biodefense policy in the White House for Clinton and George W. Bush.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who was a key architect of the law that created the office of pandemic preparedness, said it was essential the government had a team in place ready to operate 24/7 to coordinate pandemic preparedness and response efforts.

“I have worked hard to get my Pandemic Prevention Act passed to ensure we have a permanent Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy Office. … As the administration works to scale down its COVID task force and set up this new pandemic office, I will be watching closely to ensure it fulfills its crucial mission,” Murray told STAT in a statement. written statement.

Talking points from the White House recently have been that the pandemic response is in a better place than it has been and that emergency response tools are no longer needed.

“It is a signal that we are in a different and better place with Covid. It doesn’t mean Covid is gone, it doesn’t mean Covid isn’t a problem, but it does mean the emergency tools we needed to deal with this virus aren’t needed in the same way anymore,” he said. said Ashish, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator. Jha told WBUR last month.

But it’s unclear what the post-emergency infrastructure will look like to deal with pandemic threats at the White House under Biden.

The main responsibilities of the new director would be to advise the president on preparedness for pandemics and other biological threats, to coordinate response activities across the federal government – ​​including researching new countermeasures and distributing medical supplies. – and to assess the government’s state of preparedness. The director would also be a member of the Domestic Policy Council and the National Security Council.

Biden’s current chief of staff, Jeff Zients, who is likely to make the final decisions on office setup, first joined Biden’s White House as the Covid-19 response coordinator.

The structure can be complicated, as some of the responsibilities overlap with the NSC’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense currently headed by Raj Panjabi, Bernard said.

Yet – “This new office needs to be done. It’s the law,” Bernard said.

A few different options include creating a new independent office, combining it with the existing NSC leadership, or placing it under the Domestic Policy Council or the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said J. Stephen Morrison, vice -Senior President of the Center. for Strategic and International Studies and Director of its Global Health Policy Center.

A White House spokesperson said in a written statement that the structure of the office was “under review.”

Although Congress provided no new funding for the office in December, the Biden administration is in a unique position to resource the office internally, as it has already employed people internally to manage the Covid-19 response. From the White House most recent report to Congress in July, the White House directly employed 17 people with “Covid-19” in their job titles and paid them $1.8 million in total. This total does not include officials who work at the White House and are on loan from other agencies. The law allows up to 25 employees in the new office.

The provision that created the new office was part of a broader pandemic preparedness package assembled by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and former Sen. Richard Burr.

Burr told STAT he thinks the White House’s response is going in the right direction with the decision to end various emergency declarations soon, and says he thinks the White House has bought into creating of a new office.

“I am confident that the White House will soon take step three: establishing the new Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response to ensure that we remain vigilant against current and potential threats on the horizon,” said Burr.

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