Earlier this week, The Heritage Foundation hosted the session “Ebola: U.S. Domestic and Foreign Policy Options,” presented by three former colleagues of mine: Dr. Bob Kadlec, Dr. Tevi Troy, and Dr. Tara O’Toole. Together with Heritage researcher Charlotte Florance, they participated in a thoughtful discussion that skipped the hyperbole and instead provided much needed perspective and policy recommendations for the Ebola outbreak.

The Public Health Experts

Having worked with Bob and Tevi in the Bush White House and Tara in the Obama Department of Homeland Security (DHS), I know well their expertise in the area of public health preparedness. And I agree with Dr. Steve Bucci, Heritage’s host for the session, that they would have been superior candidates for the Ebola Czar position.

As they spoke of the need for expedited medical countermeasures, enhanced diagnostics, and more effective public communications, I had to remind myself that I was not sitting in an interagency meeting at the White House, but rather in a think tank session. That these experts are no longer in government—actively working to safeguard us from the public health threats we face—is as depressing as it is concerning.

Tevi Troy planned for pandemic influenza at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services. Tara O’Toole was a national recognized leader on biodefense even before stepping foot in DHS.

No Biodefense Directorate

Perhaps most striking, not only is Bob Kadlec no longer managing public health emergencies at the White House, but the position he held and the organization he oversaw no longer exists. President Barack Obama merged the Homeland Security Council (HSC) staff into the National Security Council staff shortly after taking office. The HSC Biodefense Directorate was among the capabilities not retained in the merger. Thus, today there is no Bob Kadlec equivalent—a physician and public health expert—quarterbacking the White House’s response to the current crisis and preparing for the next.

The Heritage Session

I encourage you to watch the session. Just be forewarned, you too may feel morose that these experts are on the sidelines, rather than czars.

Daniel Kaniewski, PhD, is a senior fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute and was a special assistant to the president for homeland security under President George W. Bush.