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Dr. Anthony Fauci: A Public Servant for All Seasons

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Stephen R. Rolandi
April 2, 2020

Our nation and, indeed, nearly the entire world, is caught up in one of the most severe pandemics since the 1918-1920 global influenza pandemic, which followed the end of World War I. As I write this article, there are approximately 875,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide with 43,000 fatalities and 185,000 recoveries (the comparable data for the United States, as reported by the CDC, are 190,000 reported cases, 4000 deaths and 7100 recoveries).

The public health crisis already has impacted the American economy to a level probably as severe as the Great Recession of 2008, if not approaching the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

If you are like me, I am telecommuting from home these days, teaching my public administration courses online and working on several volunteer projects, when I’m not watching various network and cable TV news programs, as well as briefings on the coronavirus from federal, state and local government officials.

One individual to whom I have been paying a great deal of attention is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, he is a regular member of the team speaking at President Trump’s public briefings.

I saw Fauci when I was a delegate to ASPA’s 1989 Annual Conference. (ASPA veterans will recall this was the Society’s 50th anniversary celebration in Miami, Florida.) He was there to receive one of that year’s National Public Service Awards, an honor ASPA and the National Academy of Public Administration confer jointly every year.

I feel a distinct kinship with Fauci after seeing him receive his award and, more recently, reading his biography. We’re both New Yorkers, Fauci was born in Brooklyn Hospital and he grew up in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, not far from my neighborhood. After receiving his primary education in New York, he graduated from the College of the Holy Cross and received his medical training at Cornell University. He began his professional career as a clinical associate at the NIH in 1968; six years later, he became head of its clinical section and was appointed chief of the laboratory immuno- regulation office in 1980. He has been head of NIAID since 1984.

Fauci is regarded as one of the best-known researchers of the American public health establishment and was at the forefront of the fight against AIDS. He is considered one of the top government experts on bioterrorism. It is no wonder he has served as a top public health advisor in six presidential administrations—across both sides of the aisle—and still finds time to see patients.

His accomplishments as an administrator are equally remarkable. As director of NIAID, Fauci oversees an operating budget that grew from $320 million in 1984 to more than $2.4 billion by 2001. Its 2020 appropriation is nearly $6 billion.

In studying and teaching public administration, we learn about the “politics-administration dichotomy,” first advanced by Woodrow Wilson. This theory constructs the boundaries and relationships between elected officials and professional administrators in a democratic society. It can be challenging and frustrating for administrators to navigate the often choppy waters around them when serving under elected officials.

Fauci is a well-regarded public servant and considered a straight shooter among senior elected officials. He has provided a pragmatic and data-driven presence within the White House during the last several months. It is my hope that he will continue these efforts and continue to have a significant impact on administration policies and strategies now. Time will tell.

Author: Stephen R. Rolandi retired in 2015 after serving with the State and City of New York. He holds BA and MPA degrees from New York University, and studied at Brooklyn Law School. He teaches public finance and management as an Adjunct Professor of Public Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Pace University. He is Immediate Past  President of ASPA’s New York Metropolitan Chapter  and served four terms on ASPA’s National Council, in addition to many association boards. You can reach him at: [email protected] or [email protected].

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