WASHINGTON – The White House on Sunday brushed off questions about whether a lack of top health officials was making more difficult President Barack Obama's response to a swine flu outbreak.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration's response was competent even though the Senate has yet to confirm a secretary of human services, a surgeon general or a director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The absence of those officials left Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and an acting CDC chief to brief reporters on the swine flu outbreak.
"We are doing fine," Gibbs said.
Obama's first pick to run the Health and Human Services Department, Tom Daschle, withdrew amid tax problems. The second pick, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, has faced delays in her Senate confirmation because of her support for abortion rights.
White House officials say they expect Sebelius to be confirmed shortly, given the urgency of the flu outbreak that started in Mexico and spread to the United States. They also say work at the departments is being done even though the top jobs have gone unfilled.
Obama's team tried to recruit CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta to be the surgeon general, the nation's top public health spokesman. Gupta took himself out of the running for the post, and Obama hasn't settled on a second choice.
Dr. Richard Besser, the acting chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, led the administration's public discussion of the flu outbreak. Besser spoke with reporters at the White House along with John Brennan, the homeland security adviser who is coordinating efforts for the president.
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