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Who is leading the Ebola response effort in America?

According to the White House, it is the President’s Homeland Security Advisor, Lisa Monaco, at least the federal effort. Unfortunately, she has many other issues on her plate, including cyber threats, border issues, and the potential for ISIL attacks on the homeland.

The bipartisan WMD Commission’s final report card (January, 2010) gave America a failing grade for bio-response preparedness. Much of that grade was the result of the fact that no one was in charge. This has not changed. Today there are more than two dozen Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed individuals with some responsibility for bio-defense, but no one has this responsibility as a full time job.

The WMD Center, led by the former co-chairs of the WMD Commission (Bob Graham (D-FL) and Jim Talent (R-MO)), issued a far more comprehensive report card on bio-response capabilities in November, 2011 (www.wmdcenter.org). Once again, the number one recommendation was focused on having someone in charge.

This is certainly not a new, radical idea. Both the Clinton and Bush (43) Administrations had such a position in the White House to lead public health preparedness and response. The Obama Administration eliminated this position.

We should look to the examples from the Clinton and Bush (43) Administrations or the work done by Admiral Thad Allen when he was selected to lead all federal efforts following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Haiti earthquake.

Bottom line: America needs someone in charge, reporting directly to the President, with the responsibility, accountability, and authority for preparation and response to biological threats–either naturally occurring or man-made. This is a job that will require a leader’s complete attention…24/7.

Colonel Randall Larsen, USAF (Ret), is a senior fellow with HSPI.