The Obama White House announced Friday it would tap attorney and former chief of staff to two vice presidents Ron Klain to serve as the administration's new "Ebola czar."
Anyone who has been watching President Obama and his team struggle to get a handle on the Ebola outbreak in this country has to wonder if this is good thing or a bad thing and if Klain is the right person to be in charge of such a serious health crisis.
I know Klain personally. Here is my answer to those questions.
ON THE PLUS SIDE...
The Consummate Insider
1. Ron Klain is a trusted, experienced, reliable Democratic insider who has been called to serve in multiple situations that required his skills. He is a brilliant communicator and confidant whose greatest virtue is loyalty. In the Obama administration this virtue exceeds all others, and that is the reason why Klain was chosen for the role of Ebola czar.
2. Ron Klain has strong relationships with public and private agencies. There is no doubt that the coordination of the current Ebola crisis requires effective collaboration between both government agencies and the private sector, including airports, and hospitals, as well as international agencies. Klain's relationships from his previous tenure in the administration bodes well for this aspect of crisis management.
ON THE MINUS SIDE...
1. Experience (or lack thereof) in health care. The management of the Ebola crisis requires an individual who has deep health care expertise and an understanding of the disease's medical complexities in order to instill confidence and placate fears. No one in the waiting room of a hospital would want to hear from the administrator instead of the surgeon about the status of their loved one during surgery.
2. Klain's experience in health care dates back to his role with software start up company Revolution Health led by former AOL chief Steve Case. The company has an ambitious vision to do what it's name suggests -- revolutionize the American healthcare system -- but the company's story is on that did not end well. Once this becomes more widely known, we can only hope that it will not add to the public's anxiety about whether our government is up to the job of containing the Ebola crisis.
3. The success or failure of previous "czars." The whole notion of creating the role of a "czar," and completely bypassing Congress, has been used a few times previously , but has it really worked? Jeff Zients, the "czar" in charge of healthcare.gov, was called to the healthcare.gov fire drill after the disastrous launch of the ObamaCare website. He was able to salvage the rollout of the site, but ultimately there were so many other debacles that followed that what was ultimately required was a leader to oversee the entire project on an ongoing basis.
Previous technology czars have also come and gone. Many of them have been frustrated by their inability to get things done, and have resigned, including Todd Park, most recently (who was also implicated in the healthcare.gov debacle).
4. We really need a Surgeon General. Rather than relying on a "czar," the American public would be better move served by the White House withdrawing its current nominee for Surgeon General and starting over. What our country needs is candidate whom both parties in the Senate can approve -- quickly.
What we need right now is a physician-leader who has had experience in leadership, management and communication and who can take full control of the Ebola crisis. -- We don't need another bureaucrat. And we definitely don't need someone who will add to the chaos and confusion we've seen in the last several weeks.