From Behind The Bureaucratic Curtain

Kish and I have watched some of the federal coronavirus task force briefings.  I know they are a flash point for many people.  Some people hate the President’s bombastic, promotional approach to presenting information and answering questions, and others react viscerally to the pugnacious inquiries that members of the White House press corps throw at him.  But we want to get overall information about how things are going, and the briefings are the most direct way to accomplish that — and if we have to swallow bombast and some combative exchanges with journalists in the process, so be it.

Deborah Birx, Anthony Fauci, Mike PenceThe best and most interesting parts of the briefings, in our view, happen after the parts that the news media focuses on, when the President and the Vice President turn things over to the COVID-19 task force members and other officials who are managing parts of the response to the coronavirus.  There’s no doubt that President Trump has a huge ego, but to his credit he is quite willing to share the White House podium with other officials, and he lets them directly take and answer questions, too.  As a result, we get to see and learn about the real people who are dealing, every day, with this maelstrom.

Dr. Deborah Birx and her endless supply of colorful scarves is one of the mainstays of the briefings.  When she’s not coordinating the American response to a global pandemic, Dr. Birx is an Ambassador-at-Large in the State Department, where she is the Coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy.  Another mainstay of the briefings is the earnest Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has served as the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.  Like most doctors, Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci radiate caution and credibility, and we always are interested in what they have to say about the data, the curve, the hot spots, and the litany of other health care challenges posed by the scourge of COVID-19.

And we also typically get to hear from other people in the alphabet soup of federal agencies that are found throughout the executive branch of the national government.  We’ve heard from the heads of the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Labor, the Small Business Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Navy admiral tasked with managing the logistics headaches in supplying the “hot spots” with masks and gloves and ventilators from the federal stockpile, and Vice President Mike Pence, who supervises the task force — and that’s just scratching the surface.  Because the impact of the coronavirus is so broad, if you watch the daily briefings you’re bound to see and hear from somebody new who is dealing with some specific aspect of the federal response to the coronavirus.

For those who reflexively dismiss “bureaucrats,” the briefings are probably a real eye-opener.  The people who stand behind the podium, provide us with up-to-the-minute and detailed information, and then answer questions forthrightly all come across as smart, experienced, well-spoken, knowledgeable people who are motivated by a sincere desire to do the best job they possibly can to help the country through an extraordinary crisis.  And the briefings are a good way to see what the federal government brings to bear in a crisis:  not just stockpiles of ventilators and doses of medication and an Army Corps of Engineers that can throw up thousand-bed hospitals in the blink of an eye, but also lots of capable, hard-working people with undoubted expertise who can be trusted to tackle a problem and execute a plan.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a weird learning experience in more ways that we can count, but through these daily briefings and the direct statements of task force members we’ve gotten a peek behind the bureaucratic curtain to see those people who are at ground zero of our national response.  It’s been interesting, and reassuring.  Say what you will about the “deep state,” and criticize President Trump’s managerial style all you want, but if you watch those briefings I think you’ll come away impressed by the sprawling team that is trying to navigate our country through an unprecedented public health crisis.  I have been, at least.