by Bob Barr
For nearly three-quarters of a century, America’s taxpayers have given tens of billions of dollars to an agency of the federal government charged expressly with identifying, controlling and preventing diseases. Yet, despite having faced numerous disease outbreaks in those decades – from malaria in the post-World War II southern states, to SARS, avian flu and Ebola outbreaks in recent years – the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) appears to have been woefully unprepared to respond to the still-developing COVID-19, or “Coronavirus,” that sprang out of mainland China at the end of last year.
Predictably, Democrats are almost gleefully pointing to President Trump’s departmental reorganization and funding cuts for the CDC in 2018 as the reason for the agency’s anemic response to COVID-19’s rapid spread. The root cause of the problems at CDC are not of Trump’s making, however, and go far deeper than any recent administrative changes or funding decisions.
The CDC for years has suffered from a problem common to government agencies everywhere – “mission creep”; whereby an agency and congressional appropriators deliberately keep expanding its responsibilities in order to justify bigger and bigger budgets. In the case of CDC, this is reflected in the range of non-disease related responsibilities it has championed in recent years; everything from school bullying to workplace accidents and, most notably, gun control.
Such institutional expansionism, however, comes at a price; and here it is a loss of focus and priority to what once was the core responsibility of the CDC – control and prevention of diseases.
Trump’s three-year long effort to reform federal regulatory and policy functions across the vast horizon of the federal government, does not sit well with bureaucrats inside those agencies, whether it be at “Foggy Bottom” where the State Department sits, or Atlanta where the CDC is headquartered.
As president, Trump has every right – indeed the obligation – to effect changes within federal agencies in an attempt to make them more effective, efficient, and purposeful in their missions. That the CDC and its protectors in the Democratic Party should find fault with such steps, and then blame the Administration for the latest unforeseen virus emanating from somewhere deep inside China, belies the inherent partisan nature of their posturing.
The breakdown at the CDC has been a slow-moving crisis in the making, and Democrat blame-shifting to Trump is, as the president said, a “hoax.” For years, Democrats in the Congress have been more concerned with beefing up the Center’s jurisdiction to study gun violence than with ensuring the sprawling agency does a better job carrying out its core mission of identifying and controlling communicable diseases like, well, new strains of viral infections.
Apparently, at least until now, turning the gun control debate into a “public health” issue and therefore arguably within the broadest jurisdiction of the CDC, was more important (and simpler) for congressional Democrats than delving into the structure and prioritization of disease control matters at the agency.
Considering we are in the grip of a highly contentious presidential election that will not resolve itself for at least another eight months, it is not likely the Democrats will don their adult hats and work with the administration to make long-needed changes at the CDC that will start returning it to its appropriate boundaries. It is thus all the more important that Trump not be deterred in his drive to continue doing this on his own; not only to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, but to ensure the CDC is far better prepared to meet the next viral threat which inevitably will eventually present itself.