Only the Best People, Part ???
Who can keep count?
As we continue to struggle through the Covid-19 crisis, the importance of competence in government is continually on display. Or, more accurately, the lack of competence at the federal level has been on display. James Joyner has already noted this morning that loyalty to the president is apparently more important than scientific facts, noting in a headline to his post that Candor on COVID a Firing Offense.
As we try to sort through what the scientists think and what Trumps wants them to think, we find out via Reuters that Former Labradoodle breeder was tapped to lead U.S. pandemic task force.
at the dawn of the coronavirus crisis, Azar appointed his most trusted aide and chief of staff, Harrison, as HHS’s main coordinator for the government’s response to the virus.
Harrison, 37, was an unusual choice, with no formal education in public health, management, or medicine and with only limited experience in the fields. In 2006, he joined HHS in a one-year stint as a “Confidential Assistant” to Azar, who was then deputy secretary. He also had posts working for Vice President Dick Cheney, the Department of Defense and a Washington public relations company.
Before joining the Trump Administration in January 2018, Harrison’s official HHS biography says, he “ran a small business in Texas.” The biography does not disclose the name or nature of that business, but his personal financial disclosure forms show that from 2012 until 2018 he ran a company called Dallas Labradoodles.
And the Reuters reports also highlights Secretary Azar’s rosy public pronouncements to Congress and the public which did not ultimately match reality:
By the end of February, Azar sought more money to attack the crisis as he testified before Congress. “This is an unprecedented potentially severe health challenge globally, and will require additional measures,” he said.
Still, he assured senators his agency was in control. “We have enacted the most aggressive containment measures in the history of our country,” he said.
He again provided words of calm, appearing on Fox News. “But thanks to President Trump’s historically aggressive containment efforts, we’ve actually contained the spread of this virus here in the United States at this point,” he said February 25. “I think part of the message to the American people is we all need to take a bit of deep breath here.”
“The government is working on this. You’ve got the right people on this.”
I have been joking for some time that all political science dissertations by the year 2025 will be on either the Trump administration or Brexit. Surely a huge percentage will now be about comparative governance in response to this pandemic with a lot of focus on the dysfunction of the Trump administration specifically.
A side note: in looking up some info on Azar, I noted that there have been two HHS Secretaries (the first, Tom Price, left due to scandal) and two interims during the Trump administration. This is to contrast with the previous three two-terms presidents who had, respectively, one (Clinton), two (Bush), and two (Obama). (For that matter, Reagan had three over two terms and Bush-41 had one).
The general lack of stability and competence in this administration matters and the current poor response to this health crisis underscores that fact perhaps more than any other event during this administration. We have been exceedingly lucky that this is the first real crisis that the administration has faced, as it is not equipped to deal with much aside from daily press “briefings.”