THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
overseas, and expected political and economic consequences to
affected regions. Through the co-chairmanship of OES and MED,
the working group also helps ensure that critical operations and
management issues are integrated into policy decision-making.
The PHWG formalizes another best practice learned during
previous outbreaks: it maintains a network of contacts embedded
throughout the State Department to facilitate rapid information
sharing and to feed analysis across State’s broad equities into the
U.S. government policymaking process. Regular meetings of this
group provide a forum to resolve ongoing public health crisis
management challenges and to flex the department’s coordina-
tion muscles before an outbreak occurs.
Mirroring these efforts within the department, the Pandemic
Response Team also develops and maintains strong working
relations with interagency counterparts (including the National
Security Council, CDC, USAID, Department of Defense, Depart-
ment of Transportation and Department of Homeland Security),
as well as with key allies and the World Health Organization, to
support its three mission areas. These working relationships are
essential to preparedness training, as well as better communica-
tion, coordination and transparency during an emergency.
Through these relationships, the Pandemic Response Team
monitors global disease outbreaks and local responses to pro-
vide senior officials with an early warning when outbreaks may
require a U.S. or international response. The team also leverages
these relationships to support State’s Bureau of International
Organizations in encouraging and monitoring efforts to reform
WHO’s emergency response capabilities.
More Work Needed
The State Department has made demonstrable progress in
acting on the lessons learned during the last decade, and there
is tremendous opportunity for the new leadership to bolster
these achievements. In particular, with stronger structures now
in place, the department should take a closer look at the human
capital and processes within those structures.
networks need to be encouraged at all working levels.
The State Department excels at building relationships that bear
fruit months or even years down the road, and this is a unique
asset that both our Foreign Service and Civil Service colleagues
can offer the interagency in times of crisis. Contacts developed
with the international health community during the avian
influenza effort paid dividends during the Ebola crisis, and Ebola
contacts greatly facilitated the response to Zika.
Cooperation on Ebola was facilitated by relationships devel-
oped among State, USAID, DoD and World Food Programme offi-
cials during earlier service together in Nepal. Personal relation-
ships, developed over years of working together, greatly assist in
breaking down the normal barriers to interagency and interna-
tional efforts. These networks may develop organically, but they
can also be encouraged through trainings and exercises.
State should maintain a roster of current and retired
ambassadors with strong management and team-building skills,
who can be called on to head a separate coordination office when
the highest level of departmental response becomes necessary.
The ambassadorial title is invaluable in interagency and interna-
tional arenas during a complex public health and humanitarian
crisis such as Ebola, and the need for strong organizational skills
far outweighs the need for scientific or health credentials, which
should be supplied by other members of the team.
Seasoned career ambassadors also bring critical personal rela-
tionships to the table. During the Ebola outbreak, for example,
Ambassadors Deborah Malac and LindaThomas-Greenfield
leveraged personal relationships with Liberia’s senior leaders
to enhance our ability to support the government and secure its
support for our assistance effort.
To date, the department’s
response to outbreaks has been
largely ad hoc, as evidenced
by the hodgepodge of “task
force” models that have been
Nicolette Louissaint (left), Gwen Tobert (center) and Robert
Sorenson, the three core staff of the Ebola Coordination Unit, at
a February 2015 event where President Barack Obama honored
those leading the Ebola response effort.