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City Journal: Bureaucracy Hindered Coronavirus Response

Last week, I published an editorial, "Coronavirus Shows Virtues of Limited Government," which posits the coronavirus crisis as an affirmation of federalism and limited government. A core component of my argument is that the CDC and the FDA -- epitomes of Washington, D.C. bureaucracy -- suppressed private development of test kits. This led to a dearth of testing and limited information on the breadth of the domestic epidemic.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

My line of argument has been further developed by James R. Copland, writing in the public-policy review City Journal. Bluntly, Copland notes, "Some of the holdups in the critical early U.S. testing effort read like paradigmatic illustrations of bureaucratic bloat."

Copland elaborates, describing how early actions by the CDC and the FDA led to a shortage of tests:

The reasons [for limited testing]: the American regulatory system, cumbersome even in emergency settings; and the specific choices made by regulators that proved to be tragic misjudgments. As Alec Stapp of the left-leaning Progressive Policy Institute has documented, after Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar declared a public-health emergency on January 31, private laboratories had to obtain an Emergency Use Authorization to conduct their own testing. On February 4, the FDA approved an authorization for the CDC—and only the CDC. This created a testing bottleneck, with all testing in the nation routed through the government agency. By February 28, the CDC had processed only 4,000 tests.

Copland continues, explaining that the FDA did not act speedily in granting authorizations for the development and deployment of tests:

The next day, the FDA finally invoked the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments to permit testing at some 5,000 highly specialized virology labs (among more than a quarter-million laboratories nationwide with some testing capability). The first Emergency Use Authorization granted to any entity other than the CDC was issued on March 12, to Roche. Throughout this period, the rollout of mass testing was limited by privacy rules in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA); they were not waived until March 15.

With its mandates, restrictions, and endless paperwork requirements, the federal government stymied America's response to the coronavirus. Ronald Reagan's oft-repeated statement -- "government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem" -- has been proven right yet again.