Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have requested answers from the White House about last week’s sudden departure of Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer, who led the now-disbanded global health security team at the National Security Council.
In a Friday letter to national security adviser John Bolton, the senators asked not only why Ziemer left, but also why his unit had been disbanded just as an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo was declared. The outbreak is now threatening the city of Mbandaka, which is home to over 1.2 million people.
Citing HuffPost’s reporting, the senators expressed grave concerns over the reshuffling. “The threat of a pandemic is serious,” they wrote, “and it’s important families know we have a vigilant and experienced team in place and working to protect us against such public health threats.”
Ziemer, who was described in a New York Times article as “one of the most quietly effective leaders in public health,” was not the first official who pushed global health issues to leave the White House recently. Homeland security adviser Tim Bossert, another advocate for investment in global health security, left the day after Bolton began as national security adviser in April.
NSC spokesman Robert Palladino told HuffPost last week that the reorganization was meant to streamline the NSC and that Ziemer left “on the warmest of terms.”
Reps. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also sent a letter to Bolton on Tuesday voicing their concerns over the disbanding of the global health security unit, combined with President Donald Trump’s decision last week to include unspent Ebola funds in his rescissions proposal.
“Forcing out some of our nation’s most respected leaders on global health security and scaling back our investment in countering pandemic threats sends a dangerous message to our GHSA [Global Health Security Agenda] partner countries that the U.S. no longer considers global health security a priority,” the congressmen wrote.
“We urge you to reconsider the demotion of the global health security portfolio and reject the proposal to rescind Ebola contingency funds,” they added.
“Forcing out some of our nation’s most respected leaders on global health security and scaling back our investment in countering pandemic threats sends a dangerous message.”
Andrea Hall and Dr. Luciana Borio are leading the current Ebola response, an NSC spokesperson told HuffPost Wednesday. Hall heads the NSC unit focused on weapons of mass destruction, which absorbed some of Ziemer’s global health security staff. Borio, who was formerly on Ziemer’s team, is the director of medical and biodefense preparedness policy.
But global health experts have continued to express concerns over who will be permanently leading pandemic response at the White House, saying the demotion of the health portfolio to a subset of WMD fails to recognize its importance to national security.
Jeremy Konyndyk, who led parts of the 2014 Ebola response for the Obama administration and is now a senior policy fellow for the Washington-based Center for Global Development, said the senators were asking fair questions.
“Going from a senior director lead to a director-level lead on the NSC matters,” Konyndyk said. “Senior directors carry more weight with Cabinet officials and have better access to the president and national security adviser ― both important factors in ensuring the White House stays on top of health crises.”
The full letter from Warren and Murray is below: