- The Trump administration declined to use a nearly 70-page pandemic preparedness playbook created by the National Security Council’s health unit during the Obama administration, Politico reported.
- The playbook anticipated and gave instructions for federal officials to prepare for many of the same roadblocks the Trump administration now faces, including lack of medical equipment and coordination.
- Multiple officials from the NSC and the US Department of Health Human Services told Politico that they decided not to heavily rely on it because it was finalised three years ago.
- The document also never underwent the proper interagency vetting and approval processes to become an official part of the White House’s strategy.
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The Trump administration declined to use a nearly 70-page pandemic preparedness playbook created by the National Security Council’s health unit during the Obama administration in favour of other preparation materials, Politico reported on Wednesday.
The playbook, devised in 2016 and finalised in 2017 both by top political appointees and career national security officials in the wake of the 2014-15 Ebola crisis, sought to lay the groundwork for a seamless and coordinated response to avoid confusion and conflicting messages from federal officials.
The playbook anticipated and gave instructions for federal officials to prepare for many of the same roadblocks the Trump administration now faces in coordinating a response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including lack of testing and persistent shortages of medical equipment and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Multiple officials from the NSC and the US Department of Health Human Services told Politico that while they were aware of the document, they decided not to heavily rely on it.
A NSC official told Politico that the playbook is “quite dated and has been superseded by strategic and operational biodefense policies published since,” adding, “The plan we are executing now is a better fit, more detailed, and applies the relevant lessons learned from the playbook and the most recent Ebola epidemic in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] to COVID-19.”
Specifically, a spokesperson from HHS further told Politico that its strategy for tackling coronavirus “was informed by more recent plans such as the foundation of the National Biodefense Strategy (2018), Biological Incident Annex (2017), and panCAP (2018) among other key plans.”
Politico reported that another factor limiting the Trump administration’s ability to fully implement the 2016 pandemic playbook was that the document never underwent the proper interagency vetting and approval processes to become an official part of the White House’s strategy, despite former homeland security adviser Tom Bossert expressing interest in making it a permanent fixture of the US’ policy toolkit when it came to pandemics.
Bossert, who left the administration told 2018, told Politico that he “engaged actively with my outgoing counterpart and took seriously their transition materials and recommendations on pandemic preparedness.”
In 2018, the Trump administration shuttered the NSC health unit responsible for leading the White House’s response to global pandemics and other biological challenges and consolidated it into a separate department under the leadership of then-National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Indeed, another official who worked in both administrations told Politico that the playbook “just sat as a document that people worked on that was thrown onto a shelf” and wasn’t even sure that “senior leaders at agencies were even aware that this existed.”
In 2019, the Trump administration also held a series of training simulations on a hypothetical pandemic caused by a virus that predicted, with remarkable accuracy, many of the problems and shortfalls currently plaguing the US’ response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The New York Times reported that the war-game style training exercise, which was led by the Department of Health and Human Services and included multiple federal agencies, 12 states, and private stakeholders, simulated a scenario where a respiratory virus dubbed “The Crimson Contagion” originated in China and rapidly spread through the US.
The simulation documented some of the exact same scenarios appearing now.
These included a lack of funding and shortages of medical equipment, delays and inconsistencies at the state and local levels over school closures, and systemic problems in manufacturing more medical supplies. It also includes a mandate that most people work from home and practice social distancing.
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