Swine Flu Exposes HHS Vacancies

April 27, 2009
by Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post

At Sunday afternoon's White House press briefing on the administration's efforts to combat and control a potential swine flu outbreak, press secretary Robert Gibbs was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, deputy national security adviser John Brennan, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acting director Dr. Richard Besser.

Noticeably absent on stage was a fully confirmed federal health care official: There was no health and human services secretary (Kathleen Sebelius could be confirmed as early as tomorrow), no surgeon general (no new candidate has emerged since Dr. Sanjay Gupta dropped out) and no fully confirmed director of CDC (though Besser deftly handled a series of morning show interviews earlier today)...

Some observers agree that Even without top leadership in place, HHS and the other federal agencies tasked with tracking swine flu employ thousands of experienced individuals fully capable of handling the potential crisis.

"In terms of the immediate response, we have plenty of career people in place that can step and do exactly what they should do in this situation," said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, a group focused on eliminating epidemics. The administration was smart to pick Besser as CDC acting director, Levi notes, since Besser used to run the agency's terrorism preparedness and emergency response unit. He's uniquely qualified to lead during this impending crisis, Levi added.

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