The “Ebola Czar” Arrives

This morning, Obama appointed political operative Ron Klain as his point-person (er, “czar”) to oversee the multi-agency response to Ebola:

Klain, who served as chief of staff to Vice President Biden and former Vice President Al Gore, helped to oversee the 2009 stimulus bill. He will now be tasked with coordinating both the domestic public health response and the international humanitarian and military efforts to stop the virus in West Africa. Klain will work out of the White House’s West Wing. … Republican lawmakers had been calling on the White House to appoint the so-called “czar” for weeks to lead the Administration’s response. The White House had been cool on the subject until Thursday, when Obama told reporters he was considering making such an appointment.

The right is already making hay out of the fact that Klain is not a doctor, has no public health experience, and has an extensive background in Democratic party politics. Ezra, on the other hand, calls him a great choice for the job:

The Ebola response involves various arms of the Department of Health and Human Services (particularly, though not solely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the Pentagon, the State Department, the National Security Council, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, President Obama’s office, private stakeholders, and many, many more. The “czar” position requires someone who knows how these different agencies and institutions work, who’s got the stature to corral their efforts, who knows who to call when something unusual is needed, who can keep the policy straight. …

Actual government experience is badly underrated in Washington. Politicians run for office promising that they know how to run businesses, not Senate offices. “Bureaucrat” is often lobbed as an insult. But in processes like this one, government experience really matters.

Mataconis is not so sure:

[W]hile Klain certainly has experience in government, to the extent of being Chief of Staff to two Vice-Presidents counts as experience, I’m not sure that he’s the best choice for this position. The fact that his experience is purely political, and heavily so on one side of the political aisle, suggests strongly that the White House was more concerned with picking someone that they were comfortable with than the were with picking someone who would be the right fit for the job, such as, say, a retired General or Admiral or a former Cabinet Secretary of high prominence. At the least, someone with experience at running a multi-agency effort such as this would seem like a better choice. Perhaps Klain will turn out to be just what’s needed for the job, but on first glance this isn’t a very impressive appointment.

Jonathan Cohn weighs in:

Why not pick somebody whose resume includes a stint at the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, or maybe the Federal Emergency Management Agency? This is not the first time the federal government has confronted a biological menace. An official who’d lived through and worked intensely on responses to SARS, Avian flu, or even HIV might bring critical and beneficial experience to the table. …

Still, the Administration doesn’t lack for expertise on disease and potential outbreaks. The Centers for Disease Control has made some mistakes, but nobody I know questions the expertise of Tom Frieden, CDC’s director, or Anthony Fauci, who is in charge of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci, in particular, has been working on these sorts of issues since the 1980s, when he was a key player in the government response to AIDS. (If there’s a need for more medical knowledge, perhaps the Senate could act on Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General?)