Oh, this ought to work out just great:
The head of the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that his agency --- and not the federal health establishment --- would manage the nation's response if a deadly new strain of bird flu evolved into a human pandemic....
The Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the U.S. Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies, has described itself as the "primary federal agency" in a national health emergency.
But at a meeting with reporters in Washington, Chertoff said his department expected to have overall responsibility for managing a national pandemic response....
There was no indication Tuesday whether Chertoff had White House backing for his declaration or was speaking on his own....
Many public health officials seem to be appalled:
"They don't have the infrastructure at Homeland Security, or the technical expertise, to handle" a pandemic, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, who was Maryland's health officer during the 2001 anthrax attacks....
"It's hard to imagine that Homeland Security, which has not worked on epidemics, could engage with an issue of this level of complexity, coming up to speed almost from scratch," said Dr. Arthur Kellermann of Atlanta, who is chief of emergency medicine at Emory University and oversees the emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital.
And just so you know that the grown-ups really are in charge, this is happening partly because no one reading government documents can tell who really is in charge:
A draft document released last August states, "HHS will be the primary federal agency responsible for public health and medical emergency planning, preparations, response and recovery."
The Department of Homeland Security asserts its authority to manage a pandemic response under a National Response Plan released in December that covers "incidents of national significance," including pandemics.
Both documents use similar language to assert their authority.
HHS said it would take charge when "the resources of state, local or tribal public health and/or medical authorities are overwhelmed and HHS assistance has been requested by the appropriate authorities."
Homeland Security would assume authority when "the resources of state and local authorities are overwhelmed and federal assistance has been requested by the appropriate state and local authorities." ...
Chertoff's claim of authority is based on a presidential directive issued Feb. 28, 2003.
The same presidential directive is cited in the plan under which HHS claims to be the federal agency primarily responsible for pandemic response.
Brilliant. Just brilliant.
There is a silver lining, though:
At least the guy in charge won't be Bernard Kerik.
(Via Effect Measure and PSoTD.)