Trump Administration Faces Departures of Key Health and Emergency Response Officials During Pandemic
The administration says it remains confident in its ability to handle the coronavirus outbreak, however.
Several key officials involved in pandemic-related work plan to exit the Trump administration in the coming weeks.
Officials will depart for a variety of reasons as the administration works to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic and fend off reports about mismanagement, "early missteps," issues with private sector volunteers, and other problems hampering the response. This adds to the Trump administration’s high levels of turnover and vacancies, which have not ceased during the pandemic.
White House Domestic Policy Council head and coronavirus task force member Joe Grogan, who’s been very involved in the administration’s coronavirus response, is leaving his post on May 24, The Wall Street Journal reported on April 29. Grogan has been in his role since February 2019 and before that was a health care official in the Office of Management and Budget for two years. Grogan told the paper he’s on good terms with the president and stayed in his position longer than planned. He also said the decision has “nothing to do with [Health and Human Services Secretary Alex] Azar,” with whom he’s battled in the past, according to Politico.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Josh Dozor, deputy assistant administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response group and a 13-year FEMA veteran, is expected to leave the administration in the next few weeks for personal reasons. Dozor, who was appointed to his current role in June 2018, was involved in early coordination efforts with HHS before FEMA became the lead agency for the pandemic response, according to the paper.
A FEMA spokesperson told Government Executive that Dozor is leaving to “pursue an opportunity in the private sector.” When asked how, if at all, his departure will affect the administration's pandemic response, the spokesperson said, “FEMA has robust planning, exercising and lessons-learned components that help us prepare for and respond to disasters. FEMA and HHS are currently collecting and sharing best practices and lessons learned from our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Also, “FEMA expanded the capacity of its National Response Coordination Center and opened a second facility, adjacent to FEMA headquarters, to better respond to the pandemic and any upcoming disasters.”
Then on Tuesday, Politico reported that Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, a top administration pandemic expert, made a “very difficult and emotional” decision to leave effective June 5. Ziemer led the National Security Council’s unit focused on pandemic preparedness before it was disbanded in 2018 and has been at the U.S. Agency for International Development since then.
Acting USAID Administrator John Barsa released a statement on Wednesday wishing Ziemer well on his retirement after five decades of service. The President’s Malaria Initiative that Ziemer “started and shaped [in 2005] has saved millions of lives and created networks that are helping in the response to COVID-19 in developing countries right now,” said Barsa. “For the past two years, Tim has led the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at [USAID] as we responded to numerous disasters and threats around the world, such as Cyclone Idai, Hurricane Dorian and the outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
In addition to these impending departures, in late April, Dr. Rick Bright was demoted from director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to work at the National Institutes of Health on a new public-private partnership for diagnostics. Bright has 25 years of experience in vaccine and infectious disease work in government, nonprofit and industry capacities.
Multiple news outlets reported on Tuesday that Bright filed an 89-page whistleblower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel alleging he was “involuntarily transferred” from his position as retaliation by HHS political leadership for his “objections and resistance to funding potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections and by the administration itself.”
Among his various disclosures, Bright claimed there’s been leadership cronyism at HHS dating back to 2017 and during the pandemic’s onset he received “opposition from administration officials as he began pressing for necessary resources to begin vaccine, drug, and diagnostic development.”
In contrast, the president and other administration officials have expressed confidence in their handling of the pandemic. “Thanks to the profound commitment of our citizens, we've flattened the curve, and countless American lives have been saved,” Trump said at the Honeywell International Inc. Mask Production Facility in Arizona on Tuesday. “Our country is now in the next stage of the battle, a very safe phased and gradual reopening,”