Jefferson Morley | March 26, 2020
John Bolton’s Bogus Defense of ‘Streamlining’ the Pandemic Office
One important step in restoring national safety is identifying demonstrable disinformation from public figures.
Case in point: National Security Adviser John Bolton’s explanation of why he dismantled the National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense less than two years ago.
Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, writes in Just Security.
After the Ebola outbreak, one of the key lessons was that the White House must be better organized the next time around. This prompted the creation of a new directorate on the NSC, focused on global health security and biodefense – in effect, preparing the homeland against future outbreak threats by emphasizing both U.S. and international preparedness. The directorate formalized the whole-of-government, domestic-and-international focus that Ron Klain had instituted as Ebola czar, and created a hub for expertise and institutional memory. The architect and initial leader of that Directorate, Beth Cameron, recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing the Trump administration’s historic error of judgement in closing it.
Claims that streamlining NSC structures impaired our nation’s bio defense are false. Global health remained a top NSC priority, and its expert team was critical to effectively handling the 2018-19 Africa Ebola crisis. The angry Left just can’t stop attacking, even in a crisis.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) March 14, 2020
The key lies in the bureaucratic details, says Konyndyk.
[Bolton] eliminated the Senior Director position entirely, closed the biodefense directorate, and spread the remaining staff across other parts of the NSC. That’s the opposite of streamlining. Instead of giving the issue a distinct institutional presence, expertise, and voice in the policy process, Bolton’s reorganization left it fragmented across other directorates that were focused on other higher priorities.
Bolton’s organizational choices meant the NSC didn’t have a cohesive team able to elevate pandemic readiness expertise directly to senior leaders. Instead, the NSC had director-level subject-matter experts scattered around with limited influence and little ability to reach decision-makers. These people were highly capable and impressive, but their influence was diluted by the new structure.
The Senior Director couldn’t call attention and demand action from the White House staff because there was no Senior Director. Bolton did not want leadership in that position, so he abolished it. He got what he wanted: no leadership.