Confidence in the Obama administration’s ability to manage the ebola crisis has been low overall, but it has been driven by hourly news events. Approval ratings for the President and the CDC will almost definitely decline if there are additional cases in the US, and they will rise if there are not. This reflects human nature, but also the public’s inability to focus on the issues at hand and the government’s proper role in managing the crisis.
This is a classic case of crisis management. Every organization should be prepared for a crisis—an unlikely but potentially catastrophic event—but some organizations exist solely for that purpose. Police departments, fire departments and rescue squads are prime examples. The CDC is another. According to the organization’s website:
CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same. CDC increases the health security of our nation. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.
In simple terms, the CDC receives more than $6 billion each year to prevent medical crises when possible, and minimize their effect when they cannot be prevented. The CDC is responsible for understanding ebola and developing protocols for addressing the potential spread of the disease long before it becomes a daily news story. The fact that its director, Dr. Tom Frieden, has changed his response recommendations on several occasions is evidence that this was not done effectively. The fact that President Obama deemed it necessary to name a “czar” to manage the crisis is further evidence.
It doesn’t matter how many more cases of ebola are diagnosed. Our government was not prepared and has failed us. But many Americans won’t see it this way. They will judge the CDC on the number of additional ebola cases in the US and how many die as a result. If there are not many, the “everything is now under control” narrative will prevail and the details will be forgotten until the next crisis emerges.
I don’t expect perfection from the CDC, but I expect preparation and effective management. New leadership is needed. Too much is at stake.