Going back to normal is not enough. A revamp is required.
As things look now, the US presidency of Donald Trump will soon be in the rear-view mirror, but the damage his administration leaves behind will require a sustained effort to repair. That’s especially true when it comes to restoring competency and trust in federal research agencies. President-elect Joe Biden needs to do this as soon as possible, not least to quell a pandemic that is setting records for the numbers of new cases and is on track to kill more Americans than died in the Second World War. The country cannot continue to bear the ad hoc, ineffective and incoherent pandemic response it has endured under Trump.
The list of needed actions is long, but here we highlight five that the Biden administration should take swiftly. We call not for a return to business as usual but for fundamental, sometimes counter-intuitive changes that will strengthen the use of science in US policy and by the research community more broadly.
Let an oft-overlooked White House office lead the pandemic response
Trump’s coronavirus task force, which ostensibly guided the administration’s response to the pandemic, had little authority and no accountability, had to fight for attention against other priorities, and was deliberately politicized. The task force usurped the leading role of the Department of Health and Human Services, and sidelined its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, damaging public trust in both.