The Obama administration has relied on a Bush-era public health strategy aimed at coordinating its response across an array of government agencies in the week since the first reports of a swine flu outbreak emerged, officials say, as it attempts to balance safety concerns with a desire to prevent a panic.
While Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has become the public face of the administration’s effort to manage the outbreak, President Obama has been briefed three times a day on his administration’s first public-health crisis. Behind the scenes, Deputy National Security Adviser John O. Brennan is coordinating the response to a borderless threat that draws on almost every Cabinet-level agency.
The administration’s response has won over such usual critics as Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), the House minority leader, who said, “I have no complaints about how they’re proceeding.”
(ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW)
But the administration has scrambled to maintain a consistent message on how the public should respond to the outbreak, illustrating the challenge of convincing people that it understands the scope of a fast-moving problem and has a plan to contain it.
Obama has defended his decision to keep open the U.S. border with Mexico amid calls from some U.S. senators for tighter screening of travelers, while no less a figure than Vice President Biden has sent mixed messages over whether healthy people are at risk of contracting the disease if they travel.
“I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” Biden said yesterday on NBC’s “Today” show, contradicting a message of calm caution put forth the previous night by Obama. “It’s not going to Mexico, you’re in a confined aircraft, when one person sneezes it goes all the way through the aircraft. That’s me. I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway.”