USA’s Decimated Expertise in Pandemics

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From 2018 to now, the USA decimated the expertise in the federal government for responding to a pandemic. This was not just at the Centers for Disease Control. It was also at the National Security Council and the Department for Homeland Security.

The federal government is not finding it easy to rehire the pandemic-fighting expertise it got rid of. We’ve made that mistake before. I’ll give you a simplified summary.

After the Apollo missions to the moon ended, there was a lag before funding came through for the Space Transportation System (Space Shuttle). NASA responded to the drop in its funding during that interval by getting rid of a lot of its Apollo expertise, believing they could simply rehire them whenever Congress appropriated Space Shuttle funding.

At the time, and in the early Space Shuttle years when I worked at the Johnson Space Center, the program paid maybe a quarter to half of what private industry would have paid. Many of the Apollo experts were retired former military with military pension to top up their income, so the combination was comfortable. The rest of us… well, we loved the program so much that we were willing to get by on what we were paid.

The experts NASA got rid of during the funding drop couldn’t wait years to be rehired. They found jobs in private industry. They were paid much better there. They got accustomed to having higher incomes. When Space Shuttle funding came through, NASA couldn’t pay enough to get its experts to come back.

The Space Shuttle had to fly with more newbies in its ground crew (people like me) than would have been preferable.

NASA learned from that mistake. When the next major funding drop hit between the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, NASA did what it could to cut other costs and keep its key expertise.

But we are governed now by people who willfully turn their backs on such lessons. As many people are saying, a virus does not give a damn about politics. Nature is not lenient about human folly.

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