Former Director of White House Pandemic Office Says Disbanding Unit Left U.S. 'Less Prepared' for COVID-19 in Op-Ed

A former senior director of the National Security Council's dissolved pandemic unit said its closure left the United States "less prepared" for the COVID-19 outbreak.

Beth Cameron wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post that the Trump administration's response to the novel coronavirus had been "slow and inadequate," and suggested that the closure of the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense had contributed to its "sluggish" response.

She added that the closure of the unit left "an unclear structure and strategy" for coordination of efforts to combat the damage of a pandemic.

Her op-ed was published on Friday as President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to ease the distribution of government aid and intervention to hold back the spread of COVID-19.

President Donald Trump at COVID-19 Press Conference
President Donald Trump attends a news conference about the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic at the White House March 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At the time of writing, more than 2,100 cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. A total of 47 deaths and 12 total recoveries have also been recorded.

Writing about the closure of the NSC's pandemic office, Cameron said, "I was mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like COVID-19.

"The U.S. government's slow and inadequate response to the new coronavirus underscores the need for organized, accountable leadership to prepare for and respond to pandemic threats."

She later added that is was "impossible to assess the full impact" of the decision to shutter the global health security team, but argued it was "clear" that scrapping the office had contributed to a "sluggish domestic response."

"What's especially concerning about the absence of this office today is that it was originally set up because a previous epidemic made the need for it quite clear," the former senior director added, referring to the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

After going over the past work of the global health security directorate, Cameron said: "It's unclear whether the decision to disband the directorate, which was made in May 2018, after John Bolton became national security adviser, was a tactical move to downgrade the issue or whether it was part of the White House's interest in simplifying and shrinking the National Security Council staff.

"Either way, it left an unclear structure and strategy for coordinating pandemic preparedness and response."

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment and will update this article with any response.

The Post reported in May 2018 that Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, the Trump administration's then-senior director for global health security and biodefense, had left his position as former National Security Adviser John Bolton shuttered the team he managed.

The newspaper reported at the time that Ziemer was not being replaced, and departed on the day of an Ebola outbreak in Congo.

Speaking to lawmakers this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading member of President Trump's coronavirus task force, said it "would be nice" if the team was still there.

The Associated Press reported the expert also saying, "I wouldn't necessarily characterize it as a mistake [to eliminate the unit]. I would say we worked very well with that office."