In response to growing calls to appoint a “Czar” to lead America’s battle against Ebola, President Obama is planning to name Ron Klain, a longtime political hand who doesn’t seem to have any medical or health care background. However, Klain isn’t completely without experience; he did serve as chief of Staff to both Al Gore and Joe Biden.
Through this appointment, Obama will be bypassing another official, Dr. Nicole Lurie, who has served as assistant secretary for preparedness and response (ASPR) at the Department of Health and Human Services since July 2009. Nearly a decade ago, Congress created this post, which, on paper at least, would seem to fit the bill for an Ebola coordinator. The mission of the assistant secretary is to lead the nation in preventing, responding to an ultimately recovering from the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters, which range from hurricanes to biological terrorism. It’s also in the authority of the assistant secretary to develop and procure needed medical countermeasures to deal with such issues.
In one profile, Lurie was referred to as the highest-ranking federal official in charge of preparing the US to face such health crises as natural disasters, disease and terrorist attacks. She’s described as having intimately dealt with such major health disasters as Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombing. However, not much has been published on her work during the current Ebola crisis. During a September interview with the Washington Post, Lurie spoke about her role with Ebola, saying that her agency is currently partnering with others to ensure health care workers have the necessary information and preparation to identify and treat Ebola cases, and is working with others to speed up vaccine testing.
In regards to the Klain appointment, a White House official spoke of how his management credentials, extensive experience with the federal government and solid working relationship with major political leaders. Lurie, on the other hand, hasn’t been without controversy. In 2011, she was cited in a congressional investigation of a controversial no-bid contract given to Siga Technologies to develop a smallpox vaccine that some experts deemed unnecessary. However, many lawmakers have been calling for an “Ebola Czar” to lead the fight against the disease, and feel that despite such transgressions, Lurie is an excellent candidate.