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The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease
The Domestic Council sought and got first weekly, then bi-weekly status reports from Meriwether. These were supplemented by occasional calls to Cavanaugh or Johnson, as matters arose requiring their intervention with other departments. As the spring wore on, the biggest of these became liability.
With the Secretary on the sidelines, Cooper at the top, White House liaison arranged, and CDC or BoB doing the work, internal organization from mid-April on was relatively clear, even coherent, as perceived inside the program, and apparently as seen from the state capitols. It was less so as seen from Capitol Hill; indeed Chairman Rogers, aware of early jockeying and soon to be beset by liability, recalls “disorganization” as the most disturbing feature of the whole affair. “There were too many cooks, no clear line of command, no single 'head' to hold responsible or ask for information.” In this he sees the lesson for next time.
Rogers almost certainly reads summer troubles back into the spring. He said to us:
Ted Cooper is a very able person. It struck me that he knew what he was doing and trying hard. But every so often Mathews got into the situation. Sometimes I couldn't tell who was in charge—Cooper, Mathews or Taft [William Howard Taft IV, the new HEW General Counsel, who became involved during the summer]. Cooper often didn’t have as much authority as he should have.
On the Senate side, Chairman Kennedy has comparable recollections. These strike us as a tribute to Cooper’s congressional relations: Inside he appeared a strong man, “Big Doctor,” “Substitute Secretary,” in the words of two associates, while on the Hill he seemed a good man beset by Mathews.
Actually, whatever else he may have been, Cooper was a man dependent upon three subordinates whose long service had adjusted their relations with one another, Sencer, Meyer and Seal. Adjustments had been careful: accommodations among equals, gentlemen’s agreements. Cooper might be the boss, but they ran their own agencies and their agreements more than his intentions set the swine flu program’s course.