Friday, May 08, 2020

Federalism, the Pandemic, and the Unfolding Policy Disaster

Stephen Griffin

In late April Constitution Net published a short essay I wrote on this topic.  In it, I noted parallels between the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the Trump administration’s response to Covid-19.  Both administrations relied on the states as first responders even though states have obvious limitations.  I’m sorry to say that on the basis of this WaPo article, things seem to have gotten worse.  The article quotes Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor and health secretary in the Obama administration: “The administration seems to have washed their hands of it and said [to governors], we’re out of it. You’re on your own. Figure it out.”  It continues, “[t]hat’s really the story of all this,” agreed one outside adviser to the Trump administration. “The states are just doing everything on their own.”

Consider what this means in practical terms.  A recent op-ed has recommendations for what universities should do in preparation for opening in the fall.  They include having “a comprehensive testing and contact tracing program for any student attending class in person or living on campus, any faculty member offering instruction, or any support staff or administrators regularly interacting with students. They should consider testing faculty, staff and students when they arrive on campus (or require the results from a recent diagnostic test before returning) and continue a regular testing regimen as the school year goes on.”  Now if these are sensible suggestions for those of us employed in higher education, they also represent good advice for at least those states on the front line.  Yet none of the states have the resources, financial or otherwise, to implement anything close to these suggestions.  Only the national government has the capacity to lead such an effort.  That the President and Congress are not leading the way will only compound the medical crisis and lead to a policy disaster perhaps unprecedented in American history.

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