Not having a secretary of Health and Human Services isn’t hurting the federal response to the swine flu outbreak, said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs Monday.
“Our response is in no way hindered or hampered by not having a permanent secretary at HHS right now,” Gibbs said after a reporter asked how the agency is faring.
Gibbs said he hopes the Senate will act quickly to confirm Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the nominee for HHS secretary. The Senate has scheduled debate on her nomination for Tuesday with a vote possibly later in the day.
Gibbs said interagency coordination for flu outbreaks and other public health issues is entrusted to the Homeland Security Department, headed by Janet Napolitano.
Gibbs credits the career staff at HHS agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control, for helping with the response to swine flu, which has sickened more than 40 in the United States and more than 26 in Mexico.
“There are professional staff over there as we speak helping to coordinate this. I’m sure many of you all have called public affairs over there and gotten your questions answered … we feel confident with the team that is there now,” he said.
Meanwhile, Congress has already scheduled oversight hearings on swine flu and the federal response. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has scheduled a 10 a.m. Wednesday hearing, while the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health has a 10 a.m. Thursday hearing.