Meet Stewart Simonson. He's the official charged by Bush with "the protection of the civilian population from acts of bioterrorism and other public health emergencies"--a well-connected, ideological, ambitious Republican with zero public health management or medical expertise, whose previous job was as a corporate lawyer for Amtrak. When Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, recently speculated, "If something comes along that is truly serious...like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence," many of those professionally concerned with such scenarios couldn't help thinking of Simonson. They recalled his own unsettling words at a recent Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on government response to a chemical or biological attack: "We're learning as we go."If this reached Bush's immediate family, would he then take responsibility for something?
"Great. What we need in the middle of a crisis is somebody learning on the job at that high level of government," says Jerry Hauer, Simonson's immediate predecessor at the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness (OPHEP) and a veteran public health expert who served as Rudy Giuliani's director of emergency management from 1996 to 2000.
"If I was in charge, he wouldn't be in that position," says Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. "We don't have the best and brightest in the key positions, and this leaves us in a very, very precarious situation."
I can't wait to see the e-mails after the disaster.