Help Is Available, Governor

Dr. Jay Schnitzer, chief medical officer of Virginia-based MITRE, is a national leader in the COVID-19 response. Could he help Virginia?

by James C. Sherlock

The issues I spotlighted yesterday in Governor Northam’s news conference are not a Democrat or a Republican thing. They just need to be fixed. If you or I were elected Governor, we would consider our new responsibilities.  We would find that we have basically four:

  • Appoint competent and hard-working cabinet and sub-cabinet people and give then the authority to do their jobs. A corollary is that we would not suffer fools once we saw them in action.
  • Produce a budget.
  • Declare state emergencies, which activate the extraordinary crisis authorities granted to us under state law.
  • Use those authorities to lead and manage the state.

We would do first things first, and ensure a competent administration. We would see that we don’t have to produce a budget for a year.

Then we would turn to the last two. Governors come to the job with a near infinite variety of skills and experience. Most don’t have any experience in state-level crisis management. We would see that we could not delegate such responsibilities and make sure that we were ready. We would have our state department of emergency management train us in the basic tools of crisis management, the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management and the state annexes to both. We would ask those same offices to schedule training and exercises in the federally pre-scripted and funded scenarios for such crises:

  • Biological Incident, including existing, integrated federal and state pandemic flu strategies and plans;
  • Catastrophic Incident;
  • Cyber Incident;
  • Food and Agriculture Incident;
  • Nuclear/Radiological Incident;
  • Oil and Hazardous Materials Incident; and
  • Terrorism Incident Law Enforcement and Investigation

Some do, some don’t.

So let us say that we, as Governor and our appointees, did little of that or did not do it well. Then we would need someone to break the news to us that what we were doing in an actual pandemic was not cutting it. This post delivered the news.

Once we absorbed the news, we would have to immediately bring in people with the appropriate experiences and subject-matter expertise to coach both us and our subordinates through the crisis. Such people exist in the vast federal support complex in Northern Virginia.

We would find, if we asked, that MITRE, a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) headquartered in McLean, operates both the Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute and CMS Alliance to Modernize Healthcare for the federal government. We would find that FFRDCs follow a set of rules from the Federal Acquisition Regulation that enables the government to assign FFRDCs work that the government or commercial contractors can’t do as effectively. By law, FFRDCs can only work for government customers.

Once we found that out, we would immediately contact Dr. Jason Providakes, President and CEO of MITRE, to ask him to provide us the appropriate interdisciplinary expertise on the National Response Plan and National Incident Management System, healthcare operations, healthcare data analytics, simulation and visualization, economic and cost analysis, and other subject matter experts to help us manage our crisis.

MITRE has all of the people and the tools they need to help us.

Dr. Jay Schnitzer is both Chief Technology officer and Chief Medical Officer of MITRE.  He leads corporate and national initiatives in health and life sciences.  Formerly, Schnitzer, a pediatric surgeon, was chief medical officer and senior vice president at Boston Scientific Corporation (BSC). Dr. Schnitzer currently leads the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition.  The coalition includes major private sector players from across the health care ecosystem, from health providers to research facilities and technology companies, with the MITRE serving as the central hub, coordinating combined efforts to help track and stop the disease.

MITRE is currently supporting New York City COVID-19 emergency supply sourcing and manufacturing.

We, as Governor, find ourselves very fortunate that MITRE is headquartered in McLean.

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16 responses to “Help Is Available, Governor

  1. johnrandolphofroanoke

    One thing for sure, Ralph is a follower. Maybe he will take advantage Dr. Schnitzner’s expertise. I hope the governor can finally surround himself with the best crisis talent at hand.

  2. Is this not all available to the White House now? If so, why did they do so poorly?

  3. This breakdown of tasks/talents makes me wish Philip Shucet were governor.

    • I bet Phil counts his lucky stars he is not. Leadership is a pretty thankless task around you lot, and I’ve been guilty, too. Sherlock is doing what I do like to see, making concrete suggestions. MITRE is a great organization, an asset on many fronts. Getting on Schnitzer’s calendar may be harder now than getting on Ralph’s.

  4. I worked with MITRE on multiple projects from 1995 – 2005. They are what the say they are.

  5. Unfortunately, the Governor and his cabinet members with few exceptions heretofore were too busy to do this work, given their far more important tasks of rooting out systemic racism in Richmond and Loudoun County public schools, and weaponizing laws to go after the rampant systemic racism in Virginia companies, and Virginia State bureaucracy, all just in time for the upcoming election cycle.

    • The naked truth is that what we are talking about here is a failure of our culture, society, and government on a colossal scale. And this colossal failure become even more obvious, the more we consider how our politicians spent their time over last two decades, from year 2000 up until today.

  6. Nuclear? Seriously? Biological? Chemical, maybe? At the State level? Cyber? Okay security, yes, but the states aren’t empowered to act at the national and international levels. Nor should they be; it all crosses borders and boundaries.

    And nuclear? Like what, a suitcase bomb? Chernobyl incident? Oh yeah, I can see that happening with the State Police and local FDs. What happened to those Russians?

    I worked for Texas Instruments. We were told “Do not dial 911! Dial 2222. Dallas FD and PD are not qualified.” They then told of a fire at the semiconductor facility. The Dallas FD showed up at the gate, were handed a list of the substances involved, turned around and left. TI’s FD handled it.

    They’re trained in crowd control and evacuations, and enforcing local laws. Anything else, given competent leadership, belongs and is the purview of the Feds.

  7. NN, nuclear etc. incidents of course have impacts across borders, yes. But dealing with those impacts within Virginia – e.g., evacuations – would be largely a Virginia problem today.

    And perhaps that’s a good thing if you have competent leadership at the State level. Look at the current crisis: would New York have been better off with Trump calling all the shots? They must be thinking, thank God for Cuomo!

    You ask, “Is this not all available to the White House now? If so, why did they do so poorly?” I say it’s leadership – or rather, the utter absence of it. The WH has been run for three years by a vindictive, anti-institutional egotist who truly believes he can deal with any situation by winging it, and has systematically undermined or dismantled every federal capability that has thwarted or even questioned him. Whether you like his policies or not this is no way to run a nation. We should be thankful that the Secretary of the Treasury negotiated the recent aid package with Congress, not the President himself.

    But you add, “Anything else, given competent leadership, belongs and is the purview of the Feds.” Perhaps it should be (although I think you assign too much to the federal role under our Constitution). But the current leadership of the federal establishment is not only incompetent but counterproductive. Perhaps the only reason things aren’t worse right now is that the President is also incompetent at being counterproductive.

    So if there’s no leadership at the federal level, and no leadership at the State level, where are we, in Virginia? That is the question which will confront those of us who come out the other side of this debacle sometime this fall or winter. Certainly the State budget matters, but to have that discussion in April is way premature.

    • Acbar –

      Here is the biggest and best news of the day.

      “U.S. stocks rose Thursday on signs of potential easing in the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, raising hopes for the battered energy sector.

      Major indexes pushed higher mid-morning after President Trump suggested on Twitter that talks between the two feuding nations could lead to a cut in oil production. Saudi Arabia is willing to consider massive oil-supply curbs as long as other nations join the effort, The Wall Street Journal reported.

      The signs that oil prices could recover some of their recent losses bolstered energy shares and the stock market more broadly, after weeks of punishing losses as the coronavirus pandemic slows economic activity.”

      For more on incredible leadership read:

  8. Nancy, I thought about providing you a tutorial on the national, state, tribal, local and private industry emergency response framework, its support annexes and the federally funded training and exercise programs conducted to ensure preparedness. And yes, chemical, biological and radiological weapons attacks and cyber attacks are part of the program. And yes, state and local government and especially private industry have key roles to play. I dismissed further explanation as a waste of time. I say explanation because you did not ask a question.

  9. Help is available, Governor. Maybe so somewhere some how, but surely not from the formerly great and good, but now disappeared off the map, all talk no beef, University of Virginia.

    Ah, but wait, UVa. says it’s in this virus thing after all, just focused on the “Long Game”.

    For lots of hot air about nothing, read this up-date on nothing much but lots of words.

    Guess, the University blew its virus budget on President James Ryan’s $10,000,000+++ house remodel job.

  10. With all due respect, it is the State of Virginia, Capt’n, not the USS Virginia. We’ll never be over the horizon, and the issue of sovereignty is resolved. We have had a failure of command, not a system failure. 50-fold redundancy isn’t the solution. Like we need our own epidemic models.

    Apparently there’s a fire in your house

    And a long history of it

    • You clearly don’t understand either what I wrote in the column or what I just wrote in response to your nonsense about nuclear, biological, chemical and cyber attacks and well as pandemics. We, as a nation, recognize those threats, we have coordinated plans for recovery from those attacks at every level of government and industry. The federal government makes the training and exercises available and fund both. State sovereignty means that our state leaders have the option to participate or not. Virginia’s long-standing plan for pandemic response is just about perfect. It hasn’t been executed in this crisis. I have pointed out Gov. Northam’s failures to do that, and have suggested a way to improve his and the Commonwealth’s performance with professional assistance. I have yet to spot your contributions. The 50-fold redundancy comment escapes me, as I suspect it escapes you.
      I retired from the Navy in 1995 after nearly 30 years of service including extensive combat operations in two wars. I am proud of my service and of the U.S. Navy. I am proud that USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy are serving their nation at home. I am proud that the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt are serving their nation in a different kind of harm’s way. I am proud that ships are deploying to interdict the drug trade. I am proud of the Navy Seals that killed Bin Laden. You diminish yourself with your comment.

  11. One would need a less parochial approach to even consider asking MITRE for assistance.

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