Obama-era pandemic playbook 'was thrown onto a shelf'

It's a common cliche: "there's no playbook" for a specific kind of challenge. But what about a dynamic in which there is a playbook, but it's not used?
Image: President Trump Departs The White House En Route To Capitol For State Of The Union Address
The White House on January 30, 2018.Zach Gibson / Getty Images file
By Steve Benen

It's a common cliche: "there's no playbook" for a specific kind of challenge. It's been used quite a bit lately in the context of officials trying to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

But what about a dynamic in which there is a playbook, but it's not used? Politico reported this week on a previously unrevealed White House guide.

The strategies are among hundreds of tactics and key policy decisions laid out in a 69-page National Security Council playbook on fighting pandemics, which POLITICO is detailing for the first time. Other recommendations include that the government move swiftly to fully detect potential outbreaks, secure supplemental funding and consider invoking the Defense Production Act -- all steps in which the Trump administration lagged behind the timeline laid out in the playbook.

The article added that the playbook highlighted a variety of key areas, across multiple levels of the national security apparatus, "repeatedly advising officials to question the numbers on viral spread, ensure appropriate diagnostic capacity and check on the U.S. stockpile of emergency resources."

The National Security Council guide -- the "Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents" -- is unofficially known as "the pandemic playbook." Politico's report added that it was crafted in 2016 in the wake of federal efforts to combat Ebola.

The Trump administration was briefed on the playbook's existence in 2017, but evidently wasn't taken too seriously. The article quoted one former U.S. official who said that under the Trump administration, "it just sat as a document that people worked on that was thrown onto a shelf."

This is, alas, the latest in a series of reports about Donald Trump's team failing to heed warnings about the pandemic.

Given the nature of the crisis, there were a series of steps that should've been taken early on, and it's too late to go back. That said, now that we have the playbook, perhaps there are elements of the plan that can still be implemented?