Just how many virus task forces does the White House have?

One White House task force focused on the coronavirus made sense. Four - or by some counts, five - White House task forces doesn't.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with health care executives, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, on April 14, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

It started a couple of months ago with the creation of the official White House Coronavirus Task Force. Its launch made perfect sense: the Trump administration was confronting a deadly pandemic, so it stood to reason that the president would create a panel dedicated to focusing on the federal response.

But it wasn't long before it had some company. The official White House panel's work was soon accompanied by a "shadow" coronavirus task force led by Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's young son-in-law, which is reportedly generating "confusion among many officials involved in the response" to the pandemic.

Team Trump also reportedly has a "doctors' group," which the Washington Post described as "a previously unreported offshoot of the original task force," which "huddles daily to discuss medical and public health issues."

Though its rollout has been a strange mess, the White House also created something called the "Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups" initiative, featuring several dozen private-sector leaders, some of whom had no idea they'd been added to an official presidential advisory panel.

Late this morning, wouldn't you know it, another task force popped up. Roll Call reported:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has joined a task force to provide counsel to President Donald Trump and the White House on when to loosen public health restrictions and how to get the economy moving after the COVID-19 pandemic.... The lawmakers will make up just one of an array of advisory panels on the economic future and how to reopen businesses, schools and more.

At least for now, the group apparently doesn't have a name, though Axios reported that this new panel is separate from the group of business leaders announced a couple of days ago.

Stepping back, there are a few questions worth kicking around.

Are all of these task forces entirely necessary? As we recently discussed, there's still no underlying plan for the task forces' members to implement. That should be the president's focus right now.

Are all of these task forces likely to help? It's possible, but there's reason for skepticism. To be sure, the idea of organizing a group of qualified people to tackle important tasks during a crisis has appeal, but when there are multiple groups acting simultaneously to address similar priorities, the result, as a Washington Post report recently put it, is "a bureaucratic nesting doll of groups with frequently competing aims and agendas."

What is the point of all of these task forces? Only the White House can answer this with certainty, but it's hard not to wonder about a possible blame-disbursement strategy.

The Washington Post published this striking sentence on Tuesday: "Trump's advisers are trying to shield the president from political accountability should his move to reopen the economy prove premature and result in lost lives, and so they are trying to mobilize business executives, economists and other prominent figures to buy into the eventual White House plan, so that if it does not work, the blame can be shared broadly, according to two former administration officials familiar with the efforts."

It's an angle to keep in mind as the number of task forces grows.