Those of you eagle eyed to spot it on our Twitter account will have seen a Tweet on Andy Weber’s Twitter account last week querying whether he had announced his resignation the day before (11 Sept). After a long period of press office tag they came back to us this week and confirmed that he had indeed resigned and shared his email to staff. Within it he thanked them for the hard work that they had done, especially in preparing for US intervention in the Ebola outbreak.
He offered no reason for his resignation, and I would suggest that Ebola and his resignation are linked - but perhaps not in the most drastic way! The 3,000 DoD individuals tasked with building centers and educating health professionals is the latest, and potentially last, shift of the DoD CBRN portfolio towards natural outbreaks. The past five years has seen more money taken out of traditional CBRN projects and placed into naturally occurring pathogens than at any other time. I would speculate that Weber would have liked to see a far greater involvement in Ebola-like epidemics, and when this didn’t happen he decided it was time to go (though I would argue that it is only someone with a desire for the theatrical who would hand his notice in on the 11th September).
Personally I have been surprised at the amount of energy, manpower and money that DoD placed into tasks that traditionally belonged to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) or other government departments - and I would be surprised if I was the only one. This intervention in West Africa is only the latest example of this, I have no doubt that the brave and capable staff that are being sent out there will do a good job and one that the American people can be proud of, but that is not the point. The DoD does not have the monopoly on health professionals that are keen to put their lives on the line for humanity’s sake, and the difference between them is the fact that these agencies might have this as their main raison d’etre. The DoD is a compelling organisation, it looks at a negative situation and uses a variety of options (including the application of explosive force) to turn that around. A major epidemic in a country that the US does not have a strategic interest in is not a job for the soldier, sailors, marines and airmen in the DoD - yet somehow over the past five years it has become one.
Seven or eight years ago I interviewed Chief Bob Ingram, from the FDNY, who stated that the CBRN pendulum had swung too far, that grants were focussing on CBRNE rather than all hazards, and there would be an inevitable swing the other way - he was proved right. I would suggest that the same is true within OASD and some of their sponsored programs. Too much emphasis has been put on non-traditional CBRN tasks and funding, and it is time to take stock, decide what the role of the DoD is in CBRN defence, and course-correct accordingly.
I would be surprised whether the new incumbent will be allowed the same room for manoeuver that Weber was, General Officers will take this opportunity to take a long, cold, look at some of these projects and start sharpening knives. The choice of incumbent is not theirs, however, as OASD is a Presidentially chosen candidate, but as the DoD faces the greatest, and most varied, CBRN threat that they have seen for the past 30 years I would be surprised if they decided that pan flu and other natural epidemics was the way forward. I am too far from the levers of power to know which ones they can push and pull, but if they let the pendulum keep swinging out they will find their ability to deal with ‘mainstream’ CBRN agents retarded.
We wish Andy Weber well in his next posting and wait to see what his replacement does with bated breath.