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Image: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta in 2014.Tami Chappell / Reuters file

On Biden's to-do list: repairing much of the executive branch

Once in the White House, Biden and his team will have to rescue and restore the CDC. And the Pentagon. And the intelligence community. And the DOJ. And...


It was nine months ago tomorrow when Nancy Messonnier, the head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, delivered a striking warning about the coronavirus.

"It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness," Messonnier said during a media briefing. She added, "We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad."

Almost immediately, Wall Street reacted badly, and Donald Trump's White House decided Messonnier was a voice that needed to be sidelined.

Nine months later, Politico reports that President-elect Joe Biden intends to restore trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in part by putting scientists back in charge.

The plans include immediately reviving regular media briefings and giving a central role to long-sidelined career officials including Nancy Messonnier, the public health official who first warned of the "severe" impact of the Covid-19 back in February. The goal, said Biden's advisers, is to send a tightly coordinated message that, nearly a year into the coronavirus crisis, the federal government is prioritizing science over politics in driving its pandemic response.

This is clearly a worthwhile goal, and if the incoming administration can restore the CDC's traditional role as a global gold standard, everyone will benefit.

But reading about the efforts, it was hard not to think about all of the other areas of the executive branch the incoming White House team will also try to restore.

The Washington Post recently reported, for example, that Biden and his team are "seeking to restore stability" at the Pentagon. The same day, the New York Times reported on the challenges associated with trying to "overhaul the Department of Homeland Security, which has been bent to President Trump's will over the past four years."

A couple of weeks earlier, the HuffPost reported, "The Justice Department can't take four more years of President Donald Trump. Scores of former department officials from both political parties said that the severe damage inflicted by the president on the department and its components over the past four years will become permanent and irreversible if Trump wins a second term. The result, they said, would be a fundamental subjugation of the rule of law and the transformation of the department into an overtly political operation."

The week before that, The Atlantic reported on the need to rescue what's become of the State Department. The piece, written by someone who's worked at the State Department for nearly four decades, said the damage done to the agency during the Trump era "may be generational."

And the week before that, Politico reported that Trump's term has left the U.S. intelligence community "bruised and battered." The article added that Biden's team recognized "what a heavy lift it will be to restore morale inside the agencies, legitimacy on Capitol Hill and public trust in the intelligence community's leadership."

It's quite a to-do list for the incoming administration, isn't it?