How We Move On: Q&A With Biden Advisor Dr. Eric Goosby, Part 2

Sunday, February 21, 2021

In part 2 of Synapse's limited series, we ask UCSF Professor Dr. Eric Goosby, a member of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board, about how to move on from the previous administration. 

Synapse: As we are currently still fighting COVID-19, we are also undergoing a transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration. How is the advisory board working to oversee/create clear COVID policies during this transition? How are you picking up where the Trump administration left off?

Dr. Goosby: I’ve been through three transitions. A transition is usually three months of preparation on part of the administration that’s leaving. Every program with a budget is described: objectives, outcomes, met and unmet, timeline, and the budget given to you, you know, page by page.

Every program in NIH, in HRSA, in Center for Disease Control — so thousands of programs are put in briefing books and given to the incoming administration.

The current managers of the larger programs sit down in a two-hour minimum, but often two day, discussion for the large programs about where they are and what their concerns are, as they talk about implementation objections and challenges. And that discussion is critical for us — for the incoming administration — to not have an interruption of intent, or an interruption, in our case, of global health services, so that [we don’t] hurt somebody or kill them.

Because when we go in and out of a program, budgets dip or accelerate. If they dip, commodities stop, supply lines stop, and in two weeks, you have a clinic with no drugs or reagents for lab.

And so I am keenly aware of how delicate the system we have created and stood up is, and how, when it doesn’t have attention in the work we do, people die. So it’s been more than frustrating to be met with no briefing books, to be met with no discussion that we didn’t do any briefing books, to just kind of do a half-shuffle of conversation without clarity around “this is all you’re going to get.”

We didn’t do it, we’re being told not to elaborate, and so that’s one side of the equation.

The other side of the equation was, President Biden is, just on a personality level — and I mean this in a positive way — a gentleman like you don’t meet very often. And he does not like consternation or argument.

So his concern was that we don’t insult the Trump administration, and don’t further polarize the politics that were swirling around this over the last six weeks, culminating in the Capitol January 6 insurgency, which was as disruptive as anything has been.

If you can imagine a city of San Francisco’s size, having 27,000 troops in full military regalia sitting in a four-square block area — I mean, people aren’t really processing what D.C. has gone through in the last little bit.

It’s extraordinary. D.C. is mostly a residential city. And in terms of a lot of homes and neighborhoods that are in that town, they’ve all just been through this extraordinary moment that the rest of us really missed. So the transition was a non-transition.

President Biden was unwilling to say “they’re not meeting us” until a couple of days ago, and it was that effort of really explaining to the people of America that this was a non-engagement.

And it put us in a real hole to just understand what the unmet need in front of us is, and to allow us to get ahead of it.

We’ll be okay. We can make a big deal out of this — fine, but the work in front of us remains the same. We need to engage now, understand the programs, and pick up the ones that can help people. And we’re all smart enough to do that.

President Biden has chosen people with deep backgrounds at the cabinet level, so I’m not really that worried about it.

Let’s just move on with it — is really the truth. What can we do about it anyway?