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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 21, 2021

Biden restores White House office for global health security

As part of his effort to curb the coronavirus pandemic, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office to restore a White House office that addressed global health security.

First, some backstory: Under President Donald Trump, there were some abrupt changes to key national security posts with responsibility for global pandemics, a specialty that had been bolstered under President Barack Obama.

In May 2018, the top White House official in charge of the U.S. response to pandemics left the administration. Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer was the senior director of global health and biodefense on the National Security Council. After Ziemer's departure, the global health team was reorganized as part of an effort by then-National Security Adviser John Bolton. 

Meanwhile, Tom Bossert, a homeland security adviser who recommended strong defenses against disease and biological warfare, resigned under pressure in 2018. Neither White House official nor their teams were replaced.

In November 2019, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and experts formally recommended that health security leadership on the National Security Council be restored. And on Feb. 18, 2020, as concern over the coronavirus was growing, a group of 27 senators sent a letter to National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien to ask him to appoint a new global health security expert to the council.

Biden's order, signed on Jan. 20, restores the council's directorate for global health security and biodefense and tasks it with addressing domestic and global biological threats

The executive order said "there shall be an NSC Directorate on Global Health Security and Biodefense, which shall be headed by a Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense."

It said the senior director would oversee the Global Health Security Agenda Interagency Review Council, which had been established in 2016.

Since this promise involves an internal White House body, and doesn't require the consent of Congress, there should be no obstacles to making it happen. We rate this a Promise Kept.

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