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Why Two Decades of Pandemic Planning Failed

Medium – The Cicero Institute: “At the commencement of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, the United States government flailed and then failed in its attempt to respond to the crisis. Americans couldn’t help but ask why the government didn’t have a plan for this situation, a situation that was not only predictable, but which many scientists and public officials had predicted numerous times.¹ The truth is the government had a plan. Most commentators forgot that just six months before the current outbreak, Congress passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019, which offered funds and planning authority for just such a crisis as we now face.² This act was a reauthorization and an extension of half a dozen similar acts passed over the previous two decades, which acts were themselves extended in countless congressional spending bills, all of which resulted in countless plans. By the time the virus broke on American shores, the problem was not that the United States didn’t have a single plan for an international pandemic. The problem was it had dozens of plans, totaling thousands of pages, issued by different agencies and by different administrations, apparently with little thought to how they would be combined or who would implement them. In the process of mandating all of these plans, the government had also created an array of competing and often contradictory authorities in different bureaucracies, which often worked at cross-purposes.

The failure of the United States government to respond to the coronavirus was not a failure of foresight. It was a failure to create a coherent strategy and to provide clear lines of authority to implement it. To prepare for the next pandemic, we need to end our current proliferation of planning mandates and overlapping agency authorities (such as that of the Assistant Secretary for Response and Preparedness), strengthen the pandemic response ability of one agency (preferably the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and reform our current National Emergency Act to allow clear delegation of emergency power. Only by examining our current failures and rectifying them, most importantly, by combining authority, responsibility, and accountability in the right hands, can we make sure that our next Pandemic Preparedness Act is not an embarrassment to its name…”

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