HHS secretary: I'm not taking a 'backseat' in Ebola response

HHS secretary: I'm not taking a 'backseat' in Ebola response
© Greg Nash

The nation's top health official on Thursday pushed back against a claim that she had taken a "backseat" in the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell defended her leadership after she was accused of taking a more passive approach to health issues like Ebola, compared to Bush administration officials.

“I would like to understand the definition of a backseat,” Burwell replied to a reporter during a wide-ranging news conference. “I’ve had an Ebola meeting every single day since July 28.”

While other federal health officials may appear more often on camera, Burwell said she has been helping to lead the effort. Multiple Ebola meetings are common on some days, she added.

Since Ebola was first diagnosed in the U.S. on Sept. 30, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tom Frieden, has held a briefing nearly every day.

Frieden and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have also conducted dozens of on-camera interviews as the government attempts to assuage public fears about the deadly disease.

Burwell has also participated in many of the public meetings on Ebola. On Thursday, Burwell participated in President Obama's phone call with 1,500 state and local leaders, a briefing on the White House's approach to Ebola as well as a Q&A.

The new HHS secretary — Burwell was confirmed by the Senate June 5 — has pledged to increase transparency, holding at least three briefings for reporters.

Burwell replaced Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mike Roman says 3M on track to deliver 2 billion respirators globally and 1 billion in US by end of year; US, Pfizer agree to 100M doses of COVID-19 vaccine that will be free to Americans The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former HHS Secretary Sebelius gives Trump administration a D in handling pandemic; Oxford, AstraZeneca report positive dual immunity results from early vaccine trial Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Kathleen Sebelius MORE, who led HHS during the tumultuous rollout of ObamaCare and drew similar complaints about hands-off leadership. Sebelius was accused by some of allowing other White House officials to lead the cleanup effort while she traveled the country to promote the health law.