President Biden has come storming out of the gate just days into his presidency. One of his first actions was to sign 10 separate Executive Orders focused on responding to and managing the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Unlike his predecessor, Biden has chosen not to create a task force or mobilize a military operation. Rather, he has outlined 10 directives, empowering the federal government and a slew of secretaries to do his bidding.

Executive Orders are generally pretty vague. They announce an overarching purpose or policy and a short outline of how it is to be accomplished. It is up to those organizations or individuals named therein to execute the finer details.

But with these 10 orders, Biden seems to be kicking open the door to a massive federal COVID-19 response that, in some cases, includes policies and parts of his political platform. It’s too early to tell how these orders will actually unfold, but they seem geared at unleashing the full might of the federal government onto just about every aspect of the coronavirus pandemic. In so doing, Biden is not only departing from state-led management of the pandemic but also paving the way for a robust federal response.

I. I am Thy Federal Coordinator

Executive Order on Organizing and Mobilizing the United States Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide United States Leadership on Global Health and Security

President Biden’s first Executive Order was designed to establish the new structure under which his COVID-19 response would operate. Seemingly doing away with Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, this order creates a new position, “Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President.” The Response Coordinator will report directly to President Biden and “advise and assist the President and executive departments and agencies in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The order goes on to say that the Response Coordinator will coordinate all aspects of the government’s COVID-19 response including: 

  • Coordinating the government-wide effort
  • Overseeing the federal production, supply, and distribution of PPE, vaccines, tests, and supplies
  • Expanding testing
  • Managing Vaccine delivery
  • Directing the reopening schools, childcare and ensuring the continuity of education
  • Coordinating with states, local, Tribal and territorial authorities

The Response Coordinator is more than just an administrator. The role will have the authority to “convene principals from relevant agencies” and will work closely with the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA) “on matters involving the global COVID-19 response.”

Under this relationship, the Response Coordinator will be responsible for managing the government’s response to biological threats by convening the National Security Council to assess and manage the threat response at the “intersection of the COVID-19 response and other national security equities; global health security; engaging with and strengthening the World Health Organization; public health, access to healthcare, and the secondary impacts of COVID-19; and emerging biological risks and threats, whether naturally occurring, deliberate, or accidental.” 

The order appears to also call for a new directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense. While not outlined in detail, it’s likely this directorate will fall under the command and control of the National Security Council.