I am concerned that our existing national disaster response and recovery programs are not designed for a mega-event with the geographical distribution of this epidemic here in the United States. The programs are not scoped for this type of disaster that does not have physical damages, but more economic ones. Additionally, the number of people who administer disaster relief programs at the federal, state and local levels are relatively few in number. For example, the 2017 hurricane season, with three major hurricanes over a relatively small portion of the nation stretched the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the breaking point.
From GovTech: Federal Government Falls Behind Governors on Coronavirus Response. “The governors’ actions have transcended party. Republicans such as Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Mike DeWine in Ohio and Larry Hogan in Maryland, as well as Democrats including Andrew Cuomo in New York and Gavin Newsom in California, have taken the lead.”
In emergencies, it’s supposed to be the experts — not the president — who are in charge. As a constitutional matter, emergency powers come from Congress and are granted to the executive. They are not inherent executive powers of a kind that a president may have in wartime by virtue of being Commander in Chief. (Although Congress could, in theory, grant special emergency authority to the president himself, subject to it being exercised by rational, bureaucratic experts who work for him.)
Similarly, emergency laws vest executive decision-making authority in expert-run agencies, not the White House. Thus, a typical emergencies powers law says that when the president invokes an emergency — whether in a public health crisis or a natural disaster — the relevant agency is authorized to perform the emergency functions. Those agency decisions have to be based on rational decision making and have to be explained publicly, even if after the fact. These laws are supposed to avoid a situation where a president relies on his own instincts or advice from non-experts in his circle.
A fundamental issue is when the President will invoke the Defense Production Act. A quote on that from Biden: “Mr. President, stop lying and start acting,” Biden said. “Use the full extent of your authorities, now, to ensure that we are producing all essential goods and delivering them where they need to go.”
The New York Times reported that lobbying from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and major corporate chiefs dissuaded Trump from using the full powers of the Defense Production Act.
A Biden health-care adviser said using the full force of the Defense Production Act would yield more visibility into manufacturing and supply-chain capabilities. “We need the U.S. government to be able to have insight into that supply chain and insight into the distribution of those supplies to where they are most needed, and only the U.S. government, HHS and FEMA can do that,” the adviser said. “It’s not just the simple production that you need from the DPA, [it’s] the extraordinary variety of the things we need: everything from sophisticated equipment like ventilators to nonsophisticated equipment like swabs and millions of tests.”