The Trump administration is reportedly planning to launch an office at the State Department similar to the National Security Council’s pandemic response office that it disbanded in 2018 amid surging coronavirus cases in several cities.
According to a CNN report on Thursday night, citing a senior administration official, plans for the new office were discussed during an interagency meeting hosted by the National Security Office earlier in the day. The office will reportedly fall under the leadership of a brand new role: coordinator for pandemics.
Attendees at he meeting aimed to figure out details and come up with a proposal for President Trump to approve. However, efforts to launch a new office has sparked uproar from health experts and former officials. Some of the criticisms include questioning whether the new office will be located at the State Department instead of the NSC — a move that would contrast the Obama administration’s effort.
CNN reported that officials who had worked for the NSC’s Directorate for Global Health and Security and Biodefense were dismayed by the Trump administration’s move to disband the office. The White House argued that it simply reassigned staff and streamlined bureaucracy.
Former officials told CNN that the Trump administration “absolutely” could have had a more efficient response to the COVID-19 pandemic if it had not gutted the original office in the first place.
Lisa Monaco, who served as President Barack Obama’s homeland security adviser and oversaw the creation of the NSC’s global health directorate, told CNN that the Trump administration’s new pandemic response office “is deja vu all over again.”
Monaco noted to CNN that the Obama administration had purposefully placed the directorate under the NSC “because in an epidemic like Ebola, in a pandemic like Covid-19, what you need is a whole of government response and you need swift action.”
“And you need swift decisions from the President, and you need that policy coordinated across the entire government,” Monaco told CNN. “This move now to set this unit, re-set this unit up, although in a different building, on the one hand is the recognition that you do indeed need a specific identified place to constantly be focusing on pandemic response. That is good. On the other hand, really what we are seeing here is the risk of repeating mistakes all over again.”
Health experts told CNN that the State Department has a key role to play in a pandemic response, but that the White House should primarily be in charge of coordination. Some health experts are concerned about the possibility of the new office further endangering global health efforts such as draining funding and resources from the highly successful US Agency for International Development.
A senior administration official told CNN that Trump administration officials believe that their proposal for a new office would focus on public health and diplomacy, which they argue is why they view the State Department as the appropriate place to house the new office.
According to CNN, the same official said that there is congressional support for the new office due to higher chances of longevity and less turnover if housed under the State Department.