The Trump administration is considering the possibility of creating a new unit at the State Department that will deal with global responses to future outbreaks of infectious diseases, according to documents obtained by Politico.
Part of an effort in the President’s Response to Outbreaks (PRO), the proposal may also create “an alternative mechanism to some of the work” conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) following the White House’s move to suspend US funding for the UN body.
Politico reported that the new State Department unit was discussed during a recent National Security Council meeting, in a sign of the ongoing “turf battle” between the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
USAID officials were reportedly “surprised and perplexed by the idea, which could lead them to lose control of significant funds and authorities”. One USAID official was quoted by Politico as saying that the proposal was a “power-grab” by the State Department.
The news outlet also cited unnamed sources as saying that Doctor Deborah Birx, a senior US official who currently deals with Washington’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, may be at the helm of the new unit “if it becomes a reality”.
The proposed initiative stipulates the State Department appointing a coordinator who will oversee almost “every aspect of pandemic preparedness and response — from the global distribution of vaccines and therapeutics to the development of modernised protocols to prevent the spread of an outbreak”, according to the sources.
Trump Weighs Restoring Partial US Funding for WHO
Plans on the creation of a new State Department unit come after President Donald Trump tweeted in mid-May that he was considering restoring at least 10 percent of US funding for the WHO that was frozen last month.
"This is just one of numerous concepts being considered under which we would pay 10% of what we have been paying over many years”, he wrote in a tweet, adding that he has “not made final decision".
Lou, this is just one of numerous concepts being considered under which we would pay 10% of what we have been paying over many years, matching much lower China payments. Have not made final decision. All funds are frozen. Thanks! https://t.co/xQUzHy4NDa— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2020
In April, POTUS announced that the US’ funding of the WHO would be halted over negligence, claiming that the UN health agency had impeded the global response to the coronavirus pandemic and let it spread by covering up the true scale of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in China - allegations that Beijing rejects.
The US president also announced a suspension period of 60 to 90 days pending the completion of a probe of the WHO and China's actions during the onset of the pandemic.
The decision was slammed by the WHO and the international community, with the US Chamber of Commerce claiming that POTUS had compromised the country’s interests by ending Washington's funding for the agency.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, for his part, underscored that it was "not the time to reduce the resources for the WHO […] in the fight against the virus”. According to the organisation’s latest situation report, there are more than 4.9 million COVID-19 cases across the globe, with 327,738 fatalities.