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Washington Bureaucrats Drag Their Feet Against the Virus

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

In a pandemic, government efficiency can make the difference between life and death. You'd expect our civil "servants" to rise to the occasion. Some are. But the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog, is sounding the alarm that, for the most part, Washington bureaucrats are dithering.


The GAO report released June 25 uncovers dozens of dangerous failings.

Good luck getting anyone to read it. Instead, Democrats in Congress want a commission and hearings -- preferably televised -- to pin the blame on President Donald Trump for anything that goes wrong. These politicians need to look in the mirror. Through successive presidencies, they've ignored warnings from GAO and other watchdog groups that federal agencies are failing to do their jobs, including pandemic preparedness. More than a dozen similar reports from the last two decades are on shelves gathering dust. They were addressed to Congress, but Congress did nothing.

Start with why air travelers are left unprotected. After the 2015 Ebola threat, the GAO urged the Department of Transportation to draft a plan for air travel during an infectious disease outbreak. Five years later, the DOT is still squabbling, insisting the job should be done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instead. Travelers' safety be damned.

This week, as air travel reached peak volume since March, American Airlines announced it will start running packed flights. Delta, Southwest and JetBlue are promising to keep middle seats open, but only for a few weeks more.

As part of the CARES Act, the airline industry got a $25 billion grant. The DOT could have asked Congress to require airlines to keep middle seats open in return for the money. That would have guaranteed social distancing in addition to keeping the airline industry afloat.


One of the GAO's most serious concerns is the delay in producing a concrete, specific vaccine distribution plan. Trump launched Operation Warp Speed to develop, manufacture and distribute a vaccine. Development and manufacturing are on a warp-speed timetable, but agencies, including the CDC, are dragging their feet on preparing the public.

The public wants specifics. If and when a vaccine is ready, where should they go -- to a doctor's office, a hospital, a drugstore, a testing site? Who will be at the head of the line -- the elderly, health care workers, first responders, minority communities? These issues should be discussed publicly now, instead of causing delays once the scientists complete their job.

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci says that getting enough Americans vaccinated to create herd immunity won't be easy, because of anti-vaccination sentiment. "It's going to be very difficult," Fauci warns, and will require a major educational initiative. That should be in the works now.

Changing public opinion takes time. Advertising before the vaccine is ready may be risky, but the CDC -- the agency responsible for public health messaging -- should have ads in the can, with sports figures and media stars advocating vaccines.

No other part of the federal government has performed worse than the CDC. It flubbed developing a COVID-19 test, costing the U.S. weeks at a critical time, ignored nursing homes until it was too late and misled the public about the importance of wearing masks, all deadly mistakes. In the private sector, these CDC officials would have been fired.


At the IRS, incompetence is costing you money. The IRS sent out $1.4 billion in relief checks to people who are dead or in prison. IRS bureaucrats had no intention of trying to recover the funds until the Government Accountability Office suggested it. A billion dollars down the rathole doesn't seem to matter to bureaucrats on the federal gravy train.

When the pandemic struck and the CDC flubbed testing, Trump quickly marshaled private sector companies to rush masks, ventilators, tests and other equipment into production. He bypassed bureaucracy, saving lives as a result. Now, he's doing it with vaccine development. A powerful lesson for a second term, if Trump wins reelection: Shrink the bloated bureaucracy and privatize.

Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a former lieutenant governor of New York. Contact her at

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