Structured to Fail: Lessons from the Trump Administration's Faulty Pandemic Planning and Response

53 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2021 Last revised: 25 Feb 2022

See all articles by Alejandro E. Camacho

Alejandro E. Camacho

University of California, Irvine, School of Law, Center for Land, Environment, and Natural Resources (CLEANR); Center for Progressive Reform

Robert L. Glicksman

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: January 21, 2021

Abstract

The Trump Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that poorly designed government can be a matter of life and death. This article explains how the Administration’s careless and delayed response to the crisis was made immeasurably worse by its confused and confusing reallocation of authority to perform or supervise tasks essential to reducing the virus’s ravages.

After exploring the rationale for and impact of prior federal reorganizations responding to public health crises, the article shows how a combination of unnecessary and unhelpful overlapping authority and a thoughtless mix of centralized and decentralized authority contributed to the Trump Administration’s slow and ineffective effort to stem the virus’s tide. Furthermore, the Administration’s earlier dismantling of the structure built in the wake of prior outbreaks disabled a mechanism crucial to any federal response to public health threats—its ability to coordinate the efforts of public and private actions to effectively combat the crisis.

The article identifies numerous valuable lessons about government organization from the COVID-19 experience that should guide policymakers’ deliberations in the likely event that they embark upon an effort to address the mistakes plaguing the Trump Administration’s dismal response. More generally, it uses the government’s response to COVID-19 to explore a number of insights about how to better think about and configure government institutions to prepare for and manage complex social problems like a pandemic.

Keywords: pandemic,disaster,planning,preparedness,response,coordinations,Covid-19,coronavirus,public health, public administration,centralization,decentralization,overlap,federalism,Health and Human Services,Centers for Disease Control,National Security Council,Directorate,Trump

Suggested Citation

Camacho, Alejandro E. and Glicksman, Robert L., Structured to Fail: Lessons from the Trump Administration's Faulty Pandemic Planning and Response (January 21, 2021). 10 MICH. J. ENVTL. & ADMIN. L., Issue # 2, 2021 Forthcoming, UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2021-06, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-03, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2020-03, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3770368

Alejandro E. Camacho (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine, School of Law, Center for Land, Environment, and Natural Resources (CLEANR)

401 E. Peltason Drive, Suite 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-8000
United States

Center for Progressive Reform ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
United States

Robert L. Glicksman

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-4641 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.gwu.edu/Faculty/profile.aspx?id=16085

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