April 27th, 2009
01:20 PM ET
13 years ago

White House health team not at 100 percent

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/27/art.getty.obama.3.3.jpg caption="The White House declared a public health emergency Sunday, and briefed reporters on efforts the federal government's taking to confront the swine flu."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - A firm declaration from the White House: "I want to be very clear here. There is a team in place."

But while those comments Sunday from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs are accurate, it's also true that the Obama administration is dealing with its first medical outbreak with some key players missing from its health team.

The White House declared a public health emergency Sunday, and briefed reporters on efforts the federal government's taking to confront the swine flu. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano led the news conference.

Missing from the Sunday news conference: the adminstration's Health and Human Services Secretary. That's because Obama's nominee for HHS secretary, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. Her confirmation could come as early as Tuesday. The President's first choice for the position, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, withdrew his nomination because of tax problems. Tax issues have slowed Sebelius's Senate confirmation.

But it's not just the top spot: There are no apointees in place in any of the department's 18 key positions.

Those positions are Deputy Secretary, Assistant Secretary for Resources and Technology, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, General Counsel, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary for Public Health and Science, Surgeon General, Assistant Secretary for Legislation, Assistant Secretary for Aging, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, Commissioner of the Adminstration for Children, Youth and Families, Commissioner of the Adminstration for Native Americans, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Director of the National Institutes of Health, and Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Director of the Indian Health Service.

In most cases where a position is awaiting Senate confirmation, that job is currently filled by a career civil servant in an "acting" or interim capacity.

The Obama administration has named five nominees for the open positions.

"Obviously we would love to have all of our nominees confirmed but we are lucky to have a terrific team of career and political staff who have been working around the clock to respond to this swine flu outbreak and on all the critical work that the Department has done over the past 100 days," says HHS Spokesperson Jenny Backus.

"During this swine flu outbreak, HHS has worked to get out in front of the challenge, building on planning and preparation that HHS has been doing for years on flu issues, and taking steps that will allow us to respond quickly if the outbreak grows here in the United States."

Also not in place: a new head for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which does not need Senate confirmation. Like the postions at HHS, the CDC also has a acting director running the show until the Obama administration installs its own person in place.

At Sunday's news conference, Gibbs made a point of saying that the Obama administration is more than equipped to handle the current crisis.

"The team is - part of it is standing behind me, and part of it is working as we speak to identify exactly what the doctor and others have talked about," said Gibbs. "I think this notion somehow that if there's not currently a secretary, that there's not the function that needs to take place in order to prepare for this either this or any other situation is just simply not the case."

The current situation is reminiscent of the early days of the adminstration, when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was dealing with the ever worsening global recession and implementing portions of the federal bailout of financial instutions and of the stimulus package, without most of his top deputies in place at the Treasury Department.

"Can the Obama administration deal with a public health emergency? Yes, but it will be more of a makeshift effort. And therefore a test of management skills in the new White House," says CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

Filed under: Swine Flu
soundoff (88 Responses)
  1. bco

    I would like to recommend a candidate for Surgeon General.

    He is a medical doctor, with extensive executive experience as a 5-term governor, has successfully implemented universal health care for children at the state level, and has a successful track record at managing the logistics of a nationwide program as Chairman of the Democratic Party.

    He has been thoroughly vetted during his own presidential campaign.

    I suggest that you contact Dr. Howard Dean, your best candidate for Surgeon General of the United States.

    April 27, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  2. james miller

    Let`s have the IRS look at those voting on her nomination. Could be interesting !!!!!

    April 27, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  3. DT

    There would be more people in place if the GOP would stop playing partisan games with appointees. They don't want t government to work and they certainly don't want it to work for ordinary Americans. The GOP ramrodded through the least-qualified people during Bush's time in office and now that we have well-qualified people to fill these jobs during Obama's administration, these rightwing jerks can't stand it. They are the party of NO and they don't care about Americans' needs - only their own party politics.

    BTW: Susan Collins blocked funding to help deal with things like flu pandemics. Another case of the GOP hating the American people. When do we stop tolerating the two-year-old-with-stinky-diaper mindset among the GOP who are so far doing everything they can to hinder progress in this country?

    April 27, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  4. The Other Michael in Houston

    Wanted to chime in on the healthcare issue. Folks, this whole notion that socialized medicine is the "devil" is laughable. I am in the HealthCare Industry, particularly on the Insurance side of the spectrum. Although Insurance companies recieve unfair attacks, I can understand everyone's frustration. The reason why the GOP is against "socialized medicine" becasue it caps what hospitals can charge, it caps what pharmaceutical companies can charge you and I for drugs, it puts a cap on what doctors can charge. The other half to socialized medicine is preventive medicine and accountability. I'm not sure if all of you are aware that Medicare is going to a P4Q (pay for quality) system which means doctors and hospitals will no longer be reimbursed based on how many time that they see a patient, but rather how well the outcomes are for their patients i.e. diabetics, cardiac patients etc. Canada and Europe have already adopted this system, it forces doctors to focus on preventive medical practices verses reactive medical treatment. So no longer can doctors or hospitals get away with maximizing profit while providing substandard care. Also, insurance companies will have not only state regulatory bodies to answer too, but government as well (even though they already do, they just dont admit it) so moving to a sort of socialized system is good for the patient, bad for Pharmacuetical companies, Insurance Companys, Doctors and Hospitals. Socialized Medicine takes the money and profit out of healthcare and puts the patient first. Which is how it should be. It's about time that the American Healthcare Industry moves towards making a difference instead of worrying about making a profit.

    April 27, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  5. barbara

    hey let the man do his job, use your energy to help, not hinder get a LIFE

    April 27, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  6. Mark, B'ham., Al.

    We will see what their priorities are if the swine flu gets worse on who gets vaccines and medication for treatment? Will people who have to man their jobs like police, fire, medical, military, and utilities personel get treated first?

    April 27, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  7. Kathy

    The article fails to mention that Sebelius's nomination is largely held up by Republicans who would rather face a swine flu outbreak without an HHS Secretary than have an HHS Secretary that supports a legal right upheld by the Supreme Court.

    April 27, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  8. Fred

    The party of NO is holding up key Health and Human Services nominees because they have the audacity to support a medical procedure that is 100% legal and has been for decades.

    The political gamesmanship needs to end. Republican Senators need to stop putting their political grandstanding ahead of public health in the midst of this crisis!

    April 27, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  9. Robin in Tampa, FL

    Right now it's the Republicans who are to blame for holding up the confirmation of these positions .... Obama nominated these people weeks ago they should have been confirmed by now.

    April 27, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  10. Allie in San Diego

    Republican obstruction is becoming dangerous and detrimental to our country now. Don't they ever think?

    April 27, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  11. TCM

    haha...the White House staff reminds me of the "Island of Misfit Toys.." Ballerina Emanuel, stuttering and stammering Gibbs, She-Man Napalitano, tax cheat Geithner...That staff is a reflection on the incompetency and inexperience of Obama...It's a glaring example of what happens when you have runaway liberalism and corruption team together..all supported by a biased media.

    April 27, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  12. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    The WH health staff team was at 100% over the past 8 years and accomplished nothing. I'd rather see it understaffed than to see it staffed with warm bodies to meet the payroll.

    April 27, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  13. anita

    to blame, who to blame?
    Obama's vetting team would be a start

    April 27, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  14. Schneider (I) - CA

    While part of the problem has certainly been Republican obstruction, a key overlooked issue though has been the Obama adminstration's refusal to allow lobbyists into his "team". Obama has set the bar so morally and ethically high for lobbyists that these positions are still not filled. In both of these excuses though, the new President emerges as the one with ideas, standards, convictions and a purpose.

    April 27, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  15. Mike P

    No team in place, 100 days in office, and a serious event is shaping up. Government better get it together. Mexico has measures in place, yet we do not. Looking for people who sneeze at the border is not a measure-it is the appearance of one. Don't let the bad economy stop you from doing the right thing Mr. Obama. If this flu goes wild and kills a bunch of your citizens, no amount of backpeddling and excuses will keep it from coming back to a lack of leadership on your part.

    April 27, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  16. Steve, Columbia SC

    You will also find integrity issues with the President's nominee for Secretary of HHS. Let's not minimize the nomination concerns with Governor Sebelius.

    April 27, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  17. phoenix86

    His economic team is not at 100% either, and they've managed to indebt the country for trillions of dollars on wasted and ineffectual programs.

    Not being ready has never stopped Obama from anything.

    April 27, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  18. Remember When Obama Said ... ENOUGH !!

    Republican members of Congress put the well being of Americans at risk to play politics with the Sebelius confirmation at Health & Human Services.

    I'll remember that type of pettiness come election time.

    April 27, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  19. cruiserGT

    This whole swine flu outbreak is President O'Bama's fault. He knew Mexico was dealing with an outbreak and should have acted quicker... just another example of this man's short comings in the leadership category.

    This White House is the saddest example of ineptitude in the short history of our nation. How much longer will it take before America wakes up to this fact?

    April 27, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  20. Al, CA

    Obama goes with everything as fast as it is possible. I'm happy that it is he who is in White House in charge.

    April 27, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  21. Sally

    Well, it's not like it's Obama's fault; he sent forward his nominee for HHS Secretary ages ago, and her confirmation hearings have been stalled up in Congress because of petty partisan politics!

    April 27, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  22. Ray Fisher

    I see our President anchored by a do-nothing Congress as usual they can't even play well with their own party's President!!!

    April 27, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  23. Allan

    Republican obstructionism to the confirmation of Kathleen Sibelius is putting public health and national security at risk. Contact your Senators today and demand an immediate vote.

    April 27, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  24. Jim

    This flu will be especially hard on those without health insurance. Those with health insurance will have a better chance to survive. This is probably a case where the republicans will gain ground. I hope that all Americans will have equal health insurance opportunities in the near future. With the decline of unions such as the UAW and the Teamsters that have set the standard for workers health care, we will now be at the mercy of our government.

    April 27, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  25. caleb

    Once again republicans show how stupid they have become by playing politics with this confirmation. It will come back to bite them big time.

    April 27, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
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