In June 2009, the recently inaugurated Obama had given his PCAST advisors their first assignment: What does the president need to do to prepare for an influenza pandemic? Five weeks later, on Aug. 7, they gave him their answers at a meeting in the White House’s State Dining Room.
The story of this meeting and the ensuing eight years of science-informed policy making, which I have drawn from interviews with members of PCAST and internet archives of documents, show a president comfortable with having back-and-forth discussions with an assembly of the some of the nation’s top scientific minds. The president was committed to integrating science into his day-to-day decisions. One of those decisions was how to plan for and respond to the outbreak of a pandemic illness.
Over the course of the Obama presidency, a pandemic infrastructure was put in place. It included recommendations for a top-level White House official devoted to planning and responding to emerging infectious threats and, to guide that person’s work, the “Playbook for early response to high-consequence emerging infectious disease threats and biological incidents.”
And then on Jan. 21, 2017, Donald Trump became president.