Government isn’t just a theory. The federal government is a collection of real people and real processes. But the health, safety and welfare of the American people are not being protected because the government is not being allowed to do its job.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is supporting state and local governments, doctors and hospitals, and research scientists in trying to get Americans out of their houses and masks and safely back into normal life.
The CDC is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is headed by a presidential cabinet level appointee, Secretary Alex Azar, a former drug company lobbyist. The head of the CDC is Dr. Robert Redfield, a virologist.
Both are, in D.C.-speak, “politicals.” Politicals use their own or the president’s idiosyncratic desires to set the priorities of their agencies. The federal executive system is supposed to work this way.
The CDC employees who create and report scientific information are not politicals. They are hired for or build up expertise in their specific roles and remain in place no matter which political party appoints their bosses.
The whole system operates with the assumption that the politicals will not interfere with the work product of agency employees. What they produce is not political. In the CDC, their reports include scientific facts and decades of experience in conclusions respected worldwide for their quality.
In the midst of this pandemic, this system has been torn to bits.
Michael Caputo, a Republican political operative with no scientific or government experience, was appointed the assistant secretary of public affairs for HHS. He is the ultimate political, having been involved with characters like Roger Stone in the past. Stone was convicted of and pardoned for felonies that included obstruction of a federal investigation and witness tampering.
This week, The New York Times reported that Caputo has been meddling with the CDC’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Reports. Scientists producing information deemed unflattering to President Trump or his optimism about the virus are being painted as disloyal or conspiratorial.
Caputo’s interference will destroy the CDC’s long-held and hard-won reputation as one of the premiere public health institutions in the world. It will threaten the health and well-being of the American people. If the CDC’s work products become suspect as political documents, they will have no value in dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Americans cannot be our own experts on everything. We need capable, nonpartisan government employees to help us navigate the choices we are free to make. They deserve our protection.