The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is failing to provide for the common defense

The White House on Wednesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Adm. Thad Allen retired in 2010 as the 23rd commandant of the Coast Guard. He led the federal responses to Hurricane Katrina and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

I belong to no political party. I abhor inefficiency and established my career in the Coast Guard by breaking through unnecessary bureaucratic barriers and challenging the status quo.

I have worked for two presidents from different parties who faced national crises. Outcomes that meet the expectations of the public require unity of effort, shared trust, and, when required, the subordination of political and self-interest to the common good.

More is at stake today than at any time in my lifetime, including 9/11, when we had Coast Guard cutters with their guns uncovered in New York Harbor, a sight I thought I would never see.

Today, we have an invisible and ubiquitous adversary that demands a national unified response.

We need vaccine development and distribution. We need to create protocols to reopen the economy. At the same time, we must protect ourselves from foreign adversaries and defend cyberspace. That requires providing the president-elect and his team with intelligence briefings and access to the agencies across the government.

Protecting our national and health security interests requires the coordination and cooperation between the departing team of the 45th president and the incoming team of the 46th. For the sake and health of the American people, that work should start today.

The president’s refusal to cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden and make transition resources available to him fails the basic promise of the preamble to the Constitution to “provide for the common defense” and “promote the general welfare.”

This is a time for intense cooperation, not a stiff arm.

The president-elect and his team should not have to make plans in a vacuum. Biden’s transition team should have access to key government agencies and to career federal employees critical to planning for a seamless response when they take office. The administration can provide the Biden team with intelligence briefings and access to government agencies even as the president pursues his legal challenges.

This failure to cooperate is unthinkable in the face of a growing, increasingly unattended, pandemic. While we still have a short time to avoid the worst, the clock is ticking.

As an example, the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, an ambitious joint Pentagon and Department of Health and Human Services effort to develop and distribute coronavirus vaccines once these medicines receive approval for safety and effectiveness.

The success of this effort will be driven by our government’s ability to get 300 million coronavirus shots into the arms of the American people. Americans would be better served if the Biden team were engaged today. Not tomorrow, today.

I’ve seen failure of this kind take a toll before. As I flew into New Orleans by helicopter on Sept. 6, 2005, the devastation from Hurricane Katrina defied description. It was as if the city had been hit by a weapon of mass destruction; New Orleans remained underwater and literally ungoverned a week after the storm made landfall.

Beyond the immediate need for rescue, food, water and shelter, there was a loss of continuity of government, including the inability to establish command and control over efforts to help alleviate immense suffering and needless death.

This gut-wrenching experience serves as a cautionary tale as we witness the unprecedented post-election disregard for the safety and security of the nation.

Read more:

John Bolton: Time is running out for Trump — and Republicans who coddle him

Dana Milbank: Trump is now sabotaging national security to soothe his bruised ego

The Post’s View: The U.S. must brake the runaway pandemic train

Max Boot: Trump politicized covid-19. Let’s not politicize the vaccine.

Tom Bossert, Richard Danzig and James Lawler: A fall coronavirus disaster is already here. We can’t wait until Inauguration Day to act.