If Obama’s “Pandemic Playbook” Was So Great, Why Isn’t Biden Following It?

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

There were so many cycles of outrage during the former guy’s administration it was hard to keep track of them, but one of the most serious was ignited by Politico in March 2020 with this article: “Trump team failed to follow NSC’s pandemic playbook” (which was written under the Obama administration. From Politico[1]:

[There are] hundreds of tactics and key policy decisions laid out in a 69-page National Security Council playbook on fighting pandemics, which POLITICO is detailing for the first time. Other recommendations include that the government move swiftly to fully detect potential outbreaks, secure supplemental funding and consider invoking the Defense Production Act — all steps in which the Trump administration lagged behind the timeline laid out in the playbook.

“Each section of this playbook includes specific questions that should be asked and decisions that should be made at multiple levels” within the national security apparatus, the playbook urges, repeatedly advising officials to question the numbers on viral spread, ensure appropriate diagnostic capacity and check on the U.S. stockpile of emergency resources.

Obama, in a speech in Philadelphia in October 2020, laid the charge more forcefully and vividly:

We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook that would have shown them how to respond before the virus reached our shores. They probably used it to I don’t know, prop up a wobbly table somewhere. We don’t know where that playbook went.

And on NPR in November 2020, Obama was even more vivid, or perhaps I should say florid:

We had set up a pandemic preparedness task force inside the White House, which involved various agencies, and they would do regular tabletop exercises to figure out how we’re going to respond. We put together a pandemic playbook, which we actually gave to the incoming Trump administration, indicating here are the steps that you need to take, and if, in fact, this ends up being an airborne virus that is highly contagious[2], then, you know, the steps that are going to need to be taken in advance of any development of a vaccine, or any other kind of medical intervention, is wearing masks, social distancing, so forth and so on.

Obviously, these are serious charges, which amount to “If only Trump had followed our Playbook Covid would have been beaten, and thousands of lives would been saved.”

For starters, I should note that the Playbook is an impressive document, and that I’m encouraged that the United States still has a functioning civil service, at least in some part of the Federal Government. However, (1) I’m not clear on the “origin story” of the playbook, which after all only became an issue in the election year of 2020, and not before; (2) the Biden administration is not making key plays from the Playbook in any case, leading me to question (3) whether any Playbook, no matter how impressive, would have enabled us to dodge the bullet that is Covid, given the state of our public health system. Let me start with the media critique, move on to the Biden administration, and then consider the public health system.

(1) Origin Story of the Playbook

Obama says “We put together a pandemic playbook, which we actually gave to the incoming Trump administration.” That’s not how it works. Government documents are not simply “given” like the latest best seller to read; they are embedded in enormous institutional matrices. I have analyzed a lot of physical documents in my time. Here is the title page of the Playbook:

Notice first, from the logo at top left, that the owner of the document is not, as Politico would have it, the National Security Council, but The Executive Office of the President. “The EOP consists of several offices and agencies, such as the White House Office (the staff working directly for and reporting to the president, including West Wing staff and the president’s closest advisers), the National Security Council, and the Office of Management and Budget.” The EOP has a staff of about 1800, some political appointees, some not.

Notice second that the document has no date, no version number, no authors, no distribution list, and no glossary, despite being replete with acronyms. (Contrast the Playbook to the high-gloss “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza” (2006), which has a signed letter from President Bush to introduce it.) Next, the Playbook’s type and logos have the jaggies, as if it was printed on an inferior grade of inkjet printer. (Some of the inner pages are really bad.) Finally, the document is printed landscape-style, and if you look carefully at the top, you will see the circular indicators indicative of comb binding. In my experience, documents in such formats are often shared in meetings round a conference table. Not many are printed, and they don’t go outside the boundaries of the entity that produced them.

All these indications combine to lead one to the conclusion that the Playbook was meant for internal use in the EOP only. Why does this matter? Because in substance the plays in the Playbook — and this is not to take away from its excellence as content — are meant to help the Executive wrangle the interagency process at the Federal level, as well as the SLTT (States, Localities, and Tribes). But none of those entities have signed off on it (nor could they, given that the Playbook has no date or version information; what would they have been signing?) The Playbook has the plays, but it doesn’t have any players. All the players have to be acquired, and the field has to be playable. You may say that the former is the job of any administration. Indeed it is, and the Trump administration was bad at it, but Obama’s claim that “We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook” is, I suppose, true, but also not relevant. The Playbook may have been necessary. but it was certainly not sufficient. The use of the word “literally” is always such a tell.

For completeness, I offer a link to the Trump administration’s responses to the Playbook outrage, which aren’t especially impressive. (Nevertheless, the paradox that the Democrats are simultaneously treating Trump as a Russian asset and making sure he has relevant documents from the EOP is a little mind-bending.)

(2) Biden Hasn’t Adhered to the Playbook Either

There are at least two areas in which the Biden Administration has not followed the Playbook, either. One is just inexplicable; the second is improbable. And there is a third area where the Playbook was utterly useless.

Inexplicably, the Biden Administration has not followed the Playbook’s guidance on Communications. From the Playbook:

Clearly, the HHS Secretary was not “the primary spokesperson for the public health and medical response” under the former guy, but the same is true for the Biden administration, where Biden, Walensky, Fauci are all spokespeople, along with talking heads like Slavitt and Gottleib. Biden’s HHS secretary [checks notes] Xavier Becerra is nowhere to be found, and they all have fallen to fighting among themselves. Surely a single spokesperson would be best? (Biden, bless his heart, is the best communicator in the bunch, but he needs to save his energy.)

Improbable is the best way to characterize the Playbook’s view of the credibility of the Federal government:

“The American people,” taken as a whole, did not “look to the Federal government for action.” Half didn’t do it under the former guy, and half aren’t doing it under Biden, either. I wish they had, very much, but they have not.

Beth Cameron, the civil servant who developed the Playbook, expressed her in retrospect rather wistful hopes for it in June 2020:

I would emphasize that unlike other natural disasters that we face, like hurricanes, for example, the pandemic is affecting all 50 states and the federal government has to lead a response. There will be no way to decrease our cases and beat the pandemic in the U.S. unless we have a concerted effort and a national plan for testing and contact tracing.

There was little testing and no contact tracing under the former guy. The same is true under Biden.

We can’t fight a pandemic state by state and country by country. This will always leave us in reaction mode rather than anticipating, which is where we need to be. A whole-of-government, whole-of-world, unified approach is still essential to surge needed testing, tracing and gear to all locations where the disease may seed and spread.

There was no “whole-of-government, whole-of-world” approach under Trump. The same is true under Biden.

(3) West Wing Brain and the Playbook

Over and over again on The West Wing, the climax of the show is a speech. Jed Bartlet delivers the speech, the audience (fictive and real) swoons, the staff congratulates themselves, and “fundamentally nothing will change.” Similarly with the Playbook. It’s a wonderful document. Politico swooned. Unfortunately, the plays have to be run. Players have to be found. Not only that, the plays have to be run on an actual field. But what state is the field in? What happens when everything goes wrong? What happened, in fact:

We couldn’t do testing, because of the CDC test kit debacle. A travel ban was hard, because public health authorities opposed it, it was decried as racist, and China was thought to be the problem, not Italy. Contact tracing was not possible. Asymptomatic transmission makes detection hard. Doctors didn’t have treatment protocols. (Remember the ventilator fad?) We had no treatments. We had no vaccines until Operation Warp Speed kicked in. It is extremely difficult to see how even the best Playbook — and again, this document is very good — even if accepted gracefully when handed over, and studied carefully, could have overcome all these material issues. It’s a real example of West Wing brain to think a White House playbook can make a broken public health system whole. Tables and bullet points can’t compensate for years of disinvestment. Would some lives have been saved with more competent execution? Probably. How many? Well, not as many one might have thought hearing Democrats in 2020. If the Playbook were that easy to execute, Biden would have executed it.


[1] I think Politico plays a little fast and loose with its quotes. For example, they say:

The guide further calls for a “unified message” on the federal response, in order to best manage the American public’s questions and concerns. “Early coordination of risk communications through a single federal spokesperson is critical,” the playbook urges.

What the Playbook actually says, under “Key Questions” in section 2a, “Initial Response Activation” under the “Decision Making Rubric” for that section, is:

Is the US government coordinating risk communication to develop a unified message across a range of media?

And a note:

“Early coordination of risk communication through a single federal spokesperson is critical to collect and disseminate data elements from across SLTT and federal agencies.

The playbook does not “call for.” It asks a question. This is a venial, not a mortal sin, but it bugs me. So does the omission of “disseminate data elements,” which is clear about, well, data, and not “communications” in normal use. (One might also note that the Biden administration has not been strong on a “single spokesperson” either.

[2] Obama’s claim that the Playbook covers the use case of airborne transmission is true only if you equate droplet transmission with airborne transmission. From the Playbook:


Here is a PDF file of the “Pandemic Playbook”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Banana republic, Guest Post, Pandemic, Politics on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. drumlin woodchuckles

    Probably the people put into the various agencies here and there during the Obama Admin times were moved around, fired, resignationed, retirementized, etc. during the Trump Admin. As many connections were broken as possible, to make sure that no one or nothing would be left in place anymore able to implement such a playbook. That would have been part of “deconstructing the Administrative State”. Of course that is just very well founded speculation on my part.

    Building back the Playbook Team and connections would be ” too hard” and “take too long” anymore. So it won’t be attempted. And possibly Demento Joe doesn’t even remember about that, and if his people are not former Obama people, they don’t want to have to give Obama credit for something. They would rather get credit for re-inventing their own thing.

    And the whole American society is under too much stress and strain and disillusion to carry out its ” follow-the-instructions” part of any Playbook. And the Republicans and Trumpanons would sabotage and obstruct any such Playbook project as best they could.

    Coronavid and the response will be America’s slow-motion Chernobyl over the next few years. And the Coronavid itself will get recognized as the ” Lyme Disease of viruses”.

    1. d w

      i was thinking more along the line, that if you didnt follow the playbook (and we didnt) that you have made it do you cant follow it.

      think of baking cake. put the ingredients in, and skip steps.
      and what do you get

      while maybe Biden has some signs dementia, but it seems like Trump has them in spades, always seems odd that he would bring it up doesnt it?

  2. Altandmain

    Obama is the most overrated president in recent memory.

    The real world is not a fictional TV show like the West Wing. Obama largely continued the neoliberal policies of his predecessors and didn’t build up a hyper competent state. Earlier there was an article in NC concerning how the US would struggle to get a serious industrial policy up and running. Well the same could be said about the ability to respond to a global pandemic.

    Ultimately Obama’s legacy was that enough voters in the critical swing states ended up voting for Trump. Not only did his neoliberal economic policies result in the creation of a huge underclass that he helped create by failing to respond adequately to the 2008 financial crisis along with decades of manufacturing job outsourcing, but he also did not leave a very effective institution for the response of future crises.

    If the Democratic Establishment had any honesty, they would admit that. They won’t because it would mean admitting their own failings and having to face them, not just pointing the finger at Trump for everything that went wrong, who also mismanaged the situation.

    There seem to be 2 distinct problems.

    The first is that the Democrats have really big egos. They can’t admit that they screwed up, whether it be free trade (NAFTA was signed by the Clinton administration, as was admitting China to the WTO), deregulation of Wall Street (the Glass Steagall was removed as well under Clinton), and it seems the coronavirus. The rich and the professional management class seem to have this institutionalized arrogance that they can do no wrong. It’s interesting to see how states like New York did poorly under Cuomo. Scandals like how he hid the fatalities of senior homes would later emerge. Obama is no different.

    The other is that the Establishment is corrupt. The rich hold sway and the corporations. What hurts their profitability won’t be done. The end result is that the government is kept artificially constrained because of the possibility of lower profits for the HMOs, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals, along with the shareholder class. Democrats and Republicans alike are beholden to this class. Anything that threatens their profits will simply not be done, even if it leaves the country weaker.

    In Canada, where I live, this neoliberal insanity also exists. We used to have a state owned vaccine manufacturer.


    I think that when we look back, Obama should be considered a failed president and a corrupt one whose mismanagement led to voters in despair choosing an anti-Establishment candidate like Trump.

    1. d w


      but Trump has exceeded all of the others, and maybe for decades in the future (if we are lucky). not even most corrupt one till Trump (you may have heard of the tea cup dome sandal?)
      nor since WW2 have we had a president that seemed to be more comfortable with dictatorships, than democracies. then of course the attempt to get a foreign government to help him get re-elected. followed by the push to get DOJ to investigate Biden’s son (which they actually did….just didnt find any thing). the next thing was January 6th, which he sent a mob to Congress). the latest seems to be trying to get the DOJ to say that the election was corrupt. is that the last one? no…for what ever reason, the GOP is sticking with him. for now anyway

      1. witters

        “nor since WW2 have we had a president that seemed to be more comfortable with dictatorships, than democracies.”

        Well, if you say so.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        Every President since Roosevelt preferred dictatorships overseas to democracies overseas. They were just smoother about it.

        Kennedy might have become an exception. But he was shot by a Deep Nazi State-engineered assassination plot to make sure no one would ever find out.

  3. Nordberg

    Not much information added in your comment. I started reading your comment and thought I was in zero hedge land.

  4. Mark Ó Dochartaigh

    There have been far more effective responses to the pandemic from countries with far fewer resources, economic, technological, and scientific. I hope that the US will learn lessons from less fortunate countries. Still, I think that in a Democracy, or at least a hobbled Democracy, the buck stops with the people. Unless the US is willing and able to rescue one third of our population from what Asimov called “a cult of ignorance” I think that the next few decades of US history will look like a wagon train crossing the Mojave Desert haunted only by hedge fund vultures feeding off increasingly meager scraps.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I remember reading once a Chris Hedges article which I have never been able to find anywhere ever again. What it said in briefest was that millions of people who were highly religionistic, etc. still voted for House Democrats to protect them from Free Trade Agreements. When Clinton manipulated the system into yielding his Free Trade Agreements, the lives of those millions of people were destroyed over the next few years. They found reality itself so worthless and poisonous that they retreated into magical thinking as best as they could, for comfort. Hedges predicted that they would be a new Demographic Iceberg of tens of millions of Extreme and Total Fundamentalists, and since reality would never again have anything to offer them, they would never again return to reality. He said these people were Clinton’s children and Clinton’s gift to the nation and the future.

      And he was right.

      We would need to reprotectionise America and spend the next few decades regrowing an economy that offered enough to the Cultists of Ignorance that they could bear to return to a reality which could be tolerated again. The Clintonites among us would obstruct such reprotectionization of course. Would we be able to achieve it without rounding them all up, mass shooting them, and burying them in their millions in thousands of mass graves first?

      If someone has a suggestion on how to reprotectionise America without mass total extermination of the Free Trade supporters first, they should make that suggestion. Because eventually, mass extermination of all Free Trade supporters will eventually be suggested in all seriousness in the real world. And if the “right people” get power, it might even be tried.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > the buck stops with the people. Unless the US is willing and able to rescue one third of our population from what Asimov called “a cult of ignorance”

      The US as an entity cannot; classes of people within the US must. Do you have candidates in mind? What would such a “rescue” look like in practice?

      1. Mark Ó Dochartaigh

        I think that there are two centers of power in the US; the 0.1% who are mostly unified on the authoritarian right, and the US population which is about one-third authoritarian, one-third left of center-right, and one-third who don’t really care as long as they get their hamberders and sportsball.
        I think that the times make the leader and that it takes real societal pain to produce radical change. But maybe because our country is fairly equally divided and because the youth have a very low voting turnout, educating and motivating them might be enough to tip the scales. If a few telegenic young activists could be supported by the Democratic party and be shown to persuade Democratic politicians to partner with them to enable real change on a “photogenic” environmental disaster maybe this could go viral. It is no quick and permanent solution, I don’t believe that there is one, but I view the US as standing at the edge of the precipice and any small step back is necessary.

  5. Tom Stone

    Every time I see someone call the USA a “Democracy” I feel like laughing, or crying.
    That 2016 Princeton study was dispositive, the USA has been a plutocracy far longer than I have been alive.
    Are you paying attention to the end of the eviction moratorium In the middle of a pandemic?
    A nice gift to Blackstone who owns 80,000 rental homes…
    Not only do our elites not let crises go to waste, they encourage them.
    Because profits.
    And the predictable civil unrest will be used to justify repression.
    “Legally” with a Domestic Terrorism Bill, or by executive fiat if that looks like too much effort.
    If a few hundred thousand or even a few more million Americans die due to these policies it’s no big deal to the people that matter.

  6. Mark Ó Dochartaigh

    “Hobbled Democracy” probably is too generous. The study you referenced is telling, and of course former president Jimmy Carter said that the US is no longer a Democracy. But one case in which the will of the people was heard was when trump was chosen. The corporate Republicans were going to have a brokered convention to choose another candidate but they realized that trump was so wildly popular with their base that they could not win without him. So most of the 20% of the Republican party who are corporate Republicans put party before country and agreed to trump. Amazingly the bush crime family didn’t support trump. So, at least in this case, I still think that the rot in Democracy started in the the body, not the head of the fish. The weakness, or the strength, of a Democracy is that sooner or later the people get the government that they deserve.


    1. lyman alpha blob

      Because the Bush family didn’t support Trump that proves the rot started in the body?!?!?!? My guess is they would have been all for him had he not insulted their battleaxe of a mother. Birds of a feather and all.

      I may be misunderstanding your comment but I’m really getting sick of all the Bush rehab going on because Trump was supposedly worse in some people’s minds.

      1. Mark Ó Dochartaigh

        I absolutely believe that trump was worse than the bush crime family. But it is a matter of degree, not kind. And the “rot in the body” is the same in either case, the authoritarian, usually evangelical or opus dei religious, body politic which is generally rural. I think that the bush crime family didn’t not support trump because they, like many of the corporate Republicans, did not want the curtain pulled back so that the pillaging of the US could be plainly viewed. trump wanted to roast the goose which laid the golden eggs, the corporate Republicans wanted to keep strangling the goose slowly to get more eggs.

        1. lyman alpha blob

          I think you’re 100% correct about the corporate republicans, but I see Trump pulling the curtain back, accidental as it may have been, as a good thing. Also, he didn’t start any new wars and even made some mewlings about ending the ongoing ones. Wars aren’t nearly as good for the resort business as they are for oil magnates and the Carlyle Group.

          As far as the rural ‘body’ politic goes, my guess is that if the ‘head’ would stop crushing any non-corporate candidates, rural voters would be thrilled not have to settle for a choice between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dumber.

          When you only have crap on the ballot, you shouldn’t surprised that the end result stinks.

      2. Jeff

        We’re seeing the same kind of nonsense with Cuomo. Biden didn’t ask him to resign because he lied about the nursing home death numbers. It’s because he sexually harassed a lot of women and maintained a toxic culture.

        Democratic Party math:

        Putting healthy and covid positive people together in nursing homes and lying about it < sexually harassment

        They're both terrible but can we agree one is more terrible than the other? And that the Dems have the math wrong?

  7. Carolinian

    Perhaps there is no playbook for a situation like this although there may be many lessons to learn once it is over. One can point to a Trump/Biden free Europe which didn’t do any better than we did and in some cases worse. But IM Doc has said one role of the medical communicators is to keep people calm and focused rather than in a constant state of fear and panic over the latest speculative announcement. The reality that our medical system is in the hands of profiteers also generates distrust. I’m sure everyone noticed today’s Pfizer announcement that they are raising their vaccine prices. If a company is making life saving vaccines for profit–based on the number of sales–why would you trust them? Meanwhile as Turley says–also today–news media trust is at 20 percent.

    It could be its the economic fallout we should really be worrying about–that eviction thing. But failed leadership is hard to deny on all fronts.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > keep people calm and focused rather than in a constant state of fear and panic over the latest speculative announcement

      Wouldn’t that be wonderful? FDR could do that…

  8. Mark Ó Dochartaigh

    I’ve seen Chris Hedges speak a number of times over the years and have been a great fan of his articles and books. I’m sure that at one time or another on the old Truthdig website I read him say virtually exactly what you have said. I also remember him saying that 2% of the population hitting the streets had changed Czechoslovakia and would be enough to change the US. I hope that he is correct, as he almost always is, and I hope that at least 2% of the US will hit the streets in enlightened activism.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Is 2% really enough to force the other 98% to aquiesce into allowing their country to be put onto a viable survival path? 2%? Really? 2% is all it would take?

  9. The Rev Kev

    Late to comment here. Yes, it is a very strange document here. With no ‘no date, no version number, no authors, no distribution list, and no glossary, despite being replete with acronyms.’ You think that at the very least there would be a cover sheet that has a small note and the signature of the project leader. And I do not know if anybody else sees it, but when I open up this pdf in another tab in Firefox, there are three Chinese characters ( 未命名) before the title of Pandemic-Playbook.pdf. Sourced from a Chinese copy somewhere?

    And if I recall correctly, when old Joe was setting up all those task forces back in late 2020, I don’t think that there was one for the pandemic. Maybe he thought that it would be winding down this year. If he had formed one, he could have used this playbook to form the basis of an updated one but of course that never happened and this unknown document of barely acknowledged parent-ship just became another propaganda piece against Trump that when came time was never acted upon.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > If he had formed one, he could have used this playbook to form the basis of an updated one but of course that never happened and this unknown document of barely acknowledged parent-ship just became another propaganda piece against Trump that when came time was never acted upon.

      I coudn’t get to the role of Ron Klain, Ebola Czar and Biden Chief of Staff; I preferred to focus on the document. But things do not seem to be going well for Klain. Biden is said to be famously loyal to his staffers but I don’t think he can be happy that “Hot Vax Summer” turned out to be such a bust.

      Adding: 未命名 translates to “Unnamed,” says Google translate. I assumed cruft in Google Docs.

    2. Oh

      It was probably put together (copied from the Chinese version) by one of Obama’s staffers who hired an intern to do it when Trump was President. The objective was really to show that they (Obama team) had a playbook, although I doubt anyone in their team read it. This is the cheap kind of trick that the shyster-grifter-liar would pull.

  10. Maritimer

    Amateur Bureaurat here. Does the Playbook:

    1. Have a plan for rapidly developing treatments of all types?
    2. Does it have a plan for developing and investing in repurposed drugs?
    3. Does it acknowledge that there wlll be resistance by existing drug and other medical corporations to solutions they do not control and cannot profit by?
    4. Does it provide for increased auditing powers and expenditures to prevent profiteering and criminal activity?

    Those would be for starters.

  11. timotheus

    Just finishing The Premonition by Michael Lewis, which provides excellent insights into the mass dysfunction including the uselessness of what one wag calls the Center for Disease Monitoring and Observation.

    1. Tom Doak

      Yes, and according to Lewis’s book, it was President George W. Bush who put together the initial committee on pandemic preparedness, after watching a movie about a pandemic and realizing how unprepared we would be. So, I wonder how much of “Obama’s playbook” came from that?

  12. Dave in Austin

    Congratulations to Lambert for unearthing and updating us on the “Plan” and to Rev Kev and the other commentators who looked at it carefully. Sometimes NC comments descend into bar room arguments with little value but this post and the comments are a model of what keeps me here. The document definitely has the air of an internal plan that was never follored through on. It could have been the basis for a real “all agency” task force, some serious gaming and a real plan but it wasn’t.

    It seems to me that our disaster preparation system has failed in a number of ways- floods; hurricanes; forest fires; plagues- all get no organized response. This suggests to me that there is a fundamental flaw in how our national security organs (DOD, the agencies), FEMA and disaster mangement agencies deal with threats inside the U.S. Specialized military units have been created to deal with chemical/bio/nuc threats but internal (homeland) security is not really a good fit for DOD for legal and public relations reasons, so coordination and follow-through are left to the Office of the President. Under Obama, Trump and Biden the follow-through has failed, which indicates to me that the failure is not one of a party or administration; it is more systematic.

    The only analogous situation I can think of has been the longterm jockeying and reorganization in the intel community in response to the “inside U.S./ outside U.S.” problem. Christopher Andrew’s truly amazing 1995 book “For the President’s Eyes Only” is far-and-away the best book on the subject, and a must-read for those interested in how national security organs really work together.

    Incidentally, it would be really useful if NC could systematically publish and maybe update links to original documents so readers could read the originals. Definitel a job for an intern but central Alabama probably doesn’t have the right pool and managing interns is always a trial- and to say Yves, Lambert, et al are seriously overworked, is an understatement. Would some public policy academic institution like to undertake the task?

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The failure is deliberate. The failure has been engineered into these departments on purpose with malice aforethought. A better word for it might be “strategic success prevention”.

      I remember watching a thumbnail-sketch history of FEMA from Elder Bush through Clinton through Junior Bush on PBS. I believe it was on the “Frontline” series. ( I don’t remember what it said about the pre-Elder Bush FEMA.)

      It noted the corruption and non-helpfulness-to-citizens of the Elder Bush era FEMA as pointed out by its response to Hurricane Andrew’s devastation across South Florida.

      It then noted the de-corruption and re-effectivization of FEMA brought about during the Clinton Administration, especially by Clinton naming Jamie Lee Whitt of Arkansas EMA to be head of federal FEMA. Whitt re-professionalized and re-up-morale-ized FEMA from its state of Elder Bush decay. After a few years of Whitt in command, FEMA became effective in its responses. It then went on to target spending money on pre-emptive pre-mitigation strategies like buying out large numbers of homes and other property in the most often flooded floodplain areas and turning those areas into water-absorbing and slow-downing wildland areas. I myself often forget until triggered into remembering about the effectiveness and fitness-for-public-purpose restored to FEMA by Clinton’s choice of Whitt.

      And then Younger Bush re-corrupted and re-polluted FEMA all over again. His first FEMA chief was a creature named Albaugh who cancelled all the pre-mitigation programs as ” typical Democrat giveaways”.
      His second pick after Albaugh was the creature Brown who oversaw the Operation Drown NOLA conspiracy to prevent relief reaching New Orleans after the post-Katrina flood engineered by carefully sub-optimal canal-wall-maintainance in New Orleans coupled with a big barge very carefully left untethered so it could swing free in order to break a canal wall and let the water into New Orleans.
      People who don’t want to believe that are advised to very carefully avoid a blog called Rigorous Intuition 2.0 and especially to Never! Ever! read Jeff Wells’s series of articles on that blog under the category Katrina.

  13. Synoia

    Disaster preparation is an activity an achievement motivated person would not want to own. It has to be a poisoned chalice.

    It’s full of bad news. No one get rewarded for bring the decision makers a stream of bad news, and those tasked with implementing the disaster preparation would not benefit when executing the disaster preparation item.

    For sure they’d be pilloried by the minority party in the Senate or House for wasting government money.

    1. Sadder and Wiser

      No one earns points for pointing out market bubbles or preventing disasters. The accolades come when you ride to the “rescue”, like the cavalry coming over the hill.
      No one ever made a movie about the town that wasn’t wiped out because they were ready

  14. David

    This isn’t a planning document, as far as I can see, or at least it doesn’t resemble any planning document I’ve ever seen or been associated with. It’s essentially a list of existing procedures and a series of questions, and in that sense probably quite useful, although much of it is focused on what is happening in other countries. The key is probably a couple of statements on p.14:

    “This Rubric is not intended to serve as a comprehensive concept of operations or replace national or pre-existing U.S. Government response structures, but rather to serve as a proposed guide based on existing authorities, guidance, and response frameworks for staff monitoring emerging infectious disease threats and interagency planning and response, should the need arise in the future.” and
    “This Rubric is not intended to supplant other existing guidance such as the U.S. Government international disaster response system etc. etc.”
    So it’s a modest collection of existing wisdom, intended to bring together information and lists of questions to ask in one place. It might well have been helpful, but it’s not a master-plan: it’s not really a plan of any kind, but rather a check-list of things to ask and do. The target audience is described at the start as “U.S. Government experts and leaders”, so I doubt if it was intended just as an internal WH document. That said, it’s impossible to tell from the text exactly what it was, or how many people received copies – though that should be simple enough for any competent journalist to discover. But it’s clear that Obama was exaggerating.

    1. Oh

      Most of the federal government plans are the written the same way. Nothing clearcut, always a “guidence” document. Look at plans for cyber security, environmental remediation, floods,, fires, etc. and you’ll see what I mean. A bunch of gobblygook with plenty of acronyms.

  15. KFritz

    Biden is also not adhering to Obama’s playbook on Cuba or Iran. Tsouris, The results won’t be pretty.

Comments are closed.