The U.S. government is in a much better place organizationally to battle the Ebola virus than it was just a few months ago and departing Ebola czar Ron Klain played a significant part in that progress, public health experts say. The Capitol Hill view of Klain is a bit different on the Republican side of the aisle, however.
Perhaps the largest accomplishment that Klain could take some credit for is the administration's emergency request for $6.2 billion in funds to fight Ebola in the U.S. and West Africa. Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said Klain personally reached out to him to get his opinion on the proposal before it went public.
“My read on him was that he was an instrumental voice in crafting the messages around it,” Redlener said. The funding request is still awaiting Congressional approval.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, during a hearing last month, had a differing view of Klain. “Even though the president has named a so-called Ebola czar to coordinate our response, all reports indicate that he has no actual authority to direct government agencies,” he said.
The White House on Monday confirmed that Klain will be stepping down as Ebola czar in March 2015. He'll return to being general counsel at Revolution LLC, a venture capital firm owned by former AOL chairman Steve Case. The White House also reiterated that the post was always envisioned as a temporary one.
Public health experts praised Klain for his guiding role in helping craft the Obama administration's response to the virus. During a Nov. 21 appearance at the National Press Club, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he was in contact with Klain daily.
“It was felt that (we) needed a person who was devoting their time to nothing else but coordinating the Ebola response, and that's exactly what Mr. Klain is doing an excellent job at right now,” Fauci said.
More specifically, experts point to several advancements the U.S. has made in the past two months to battle Ebola. They have no doubt Klain played some role in getting them off the ground. These include the CDC designating 35 hospitals across the country as Ebola treatment centers and the screening and tracking of individuals flying from West African countries. Public panic about Ebola in the U.S. has also subsided significantly.
“These are good markers of success to go by, but is hard to quantify what Klain did,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the UPMC Center for Health Security. “A lot of what he did was behind the scenes.”
Others say that Klain has played a big part in shaping when and how often CDC disclosed information about the virus.
“I think the biggest contribution was to allow the CDC to get out of the three-times-a day press conferences, and get back to medicine,” said Steven Bucci, director of a foreign and national security policy center at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
When asked if Klain would be replaced when he steps down next year, Edward Price, a National Security Council spokesman, said the White House would “assess the need closer to when Mr. Klain is preparing to return to the private sector.”
Follow Virgil Dickson on Twitter: @MHvdickson