No 'Ebola czar' is forthcoming, White House says

Story highlights

  • President Barack Obama phones Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings about resources
  • Before call, Rawlings described containment effort: "It is, at best, disorganized out there"
  • Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas says lawmakers trying to figure out who is leading the effort
  • Administration official says a czar would just add another layer of bureaucracy
The White House defended the sprawling U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak on Thursday amid complaints that it's not clear who's in charge of the effort.
President Barack Obama phoned Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to make sure he "was getting the resources he needed from the federal government," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
"The President pledged federal agencies will remain in close coordination and reiterated his confidence in America's doctors and national health infrastructure to handle this case safely and effectively," Schultz said.
Just hours before the phone call, Rawlings had told reporters that "it is, at best, disorganized out there."
An influential Republican complained, too. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas told BuzzFeed that lawmakers are struggling to identify who's leading the governmentwide response to the Ebola crisis and who can answer questions about funding for those efforts.
He said the Obama administration needs to tap a single leader for those efforts. "I don't think there is a person in charge," Moran said. But the White House said there's no need for an Ebola czar.
Who's doing what at the federal level
The federal government's response starts with Lisa Monaco, Obama's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, who plays an "overall coordinating role" from the White House, a senior administration official said.
The international effort to stop Ebola's spread in West Africa is being led by Jeremy Konyndyk, the head of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Underneath the USAID umbrella is the Defense Department's Joint Force Command, which will lead about 3,000 troops that the Pentagon is sending to the region this fall.
At home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- helmed by Director Tom Frieden -- is at the forefront of efforts to prepare hospitals, local and state health officials and more to deal with cases of Ebola, and to keep it from spreading.
Frieden sought to quell concerns that Ebola could spread within the United States at a news conference Thursday afternoon, but said he couldn't make guarantees.
"The plain truth is that we can't make the risk zero until the outbreak is controlled," he said.
"What we can do is minimize that risk ... by working to ensure that there are no more individuals that will be exposed."
The White House said the structure of the federal response is "sufficient."
"On the question of why we have not tapped an 'Ebola czar,' we are cognizant that doing so would create another layer of bureaucracy," a senior administration official said.
"To be sure, our response needs to be as nimble and as bureaucratically lean as possible in order to bring the overseas epidemic under control," the official said. "We feel the current structure we have in place is sufficient."
Who's doing what at the state and local level
In Texas, meanwhile, Dallas County officials are coordinating the handling of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola within the United States.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the county has "set up an Incident Management Center and is acting as the lead agency for the Ebola investigation and containment," with help from state and federal officials.
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He said Dr. David Lakey, the Texas health commissioner, is embedding with the local team to "advise our response, provide personnel and help lead efforts throughout this situation."
David Daigle, a CDC spokesman and veteran of the West Nile virus crisis, is joining the group, as well.
And Doug Bass, the Dallas County chief of emergency services, is in charge of carrying out policy decisions that the county-led group makes, Jenkins said.