Politics: Brett Giroir, Trump’s testing czar, was forced out of a job developing vaccine projects. Now he’s on the hot seat.
Now President Trump has given Giroir the crucial task of ending the massive shortfall of tests for the novel
That criticism has focused attention on Giroir and whether he can deliver results under pressure. His years as director of the Texas vaccine project illustrate his operating style, which includes sweeping statements about the impact of his work, not all of which turned out as some had hoped.
During two recent interviews with The Washington Post, Giroir blamed his ouster on internal politics at the university, not on any problems with the project.
“If you’re not familiar with academic politics, it makes politics in Washington look like a minor league scrimmage,” he said. He said he was “heartbroken” to leave the position before his work was done, but he said that the vaccine projects have proved valuable — and might contribute to the development of a
As for the evaluation, Giroir, 59, said, “I’m a team player. But not to people who act inappropriately, who are misogynistic and who are abusive to other people. I don’t have a loyalty to that. I have a loyalty to my faculty and my students. And that’s what I care about. . . . It’s better to be independent and stand your ethical ground.” Asked to explain his comment, he said, “I’ll just leave it at that.”
The combative response is classic Giroir, according to those who have worked with him over the years.
Robin Robinson, who as the director of the federal Biological Advanced Research and Development Authority oversaw a major grant for the Texas vaccine project, said in an interview that Giroir “over-promised and under-delivered.” He said, “I always had a good relationship with Brett. I know he has a temper and he sometimes has a very difficult time controlling it.”
Still, Robinson, like other former associates interviewed for this report, said that he has confidence in Giroir and praised Trump’s decision to pick Giroir for the job informally known as the nation’s virus testing czar.
“He does get things done,” Robinson said. “Sometimes it’s a little different than what one might expect. But I feel confident that he will do the job where he is right now.”
On March 13, a week after Trump said falsely that “anybody that wants a test can get a
Although testing has increased since Giroir took over, some state officials continue to complain that the federal government lacks a coherent plan.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said on NPR last week that “the truth is that the federal government has really been more of a hindrance than a help in most of the testing issues. . . . We got very little help from the federal government.”
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said Wednesday on brother Chris Cuomo’s CNN show that he wasn’t familiar with Giroir. Asked by his brother about the man “in charge of the most important component” of dealing with the virus, the governor responded: “I'll take your word that he exists, but I wouldn't know otherwise.”
A Giroir spokeswoman said he has been on task-force calls to governors. A spokesman for the New York governor did not respond to a request for comment.
As for the complaints from some governors that they still lack testing capabilities, Giroir said in the interview that anyone who “needs a test” can get one.
“That does not mean at this point in time that anyone who wants a test gets a test,” Giroir said. “There may be tens of millions of people who want a test, but they really have no indication [of the virus] for that test.”
Separately, Giroir promised that “tens of millions” of serology tests will be available within a few weeks that enable people to determine whether they have had the virus.
“His scientific advisers, including me, provide him very frank advice every single day,” Giroir said. “Any thought that does not happen, or he does not listen, is blatantly false. . . . It’s one of the most productive working environments at a senior level I’ve been involved in.”
He wanted to find new ways to fight deadly pandemics, whether a virus occurred naturally or as a weapon of war. He concluded that new technology was needed to quickly make massive amounts of vaccines. “I realized the challenges were not just biological but engineering,” Giroir said.
“My job is to facilitate transformational projects that benefit lots of people,” Giroir said at the time. “I would like to be part of something that can save millions of lives worldwide.”
He told the Houston Chronicle in 2010 that “If this works, we'll have a billion-dose-per-month vaccine facility in Texas, which would be by far the largest and most capable center in the world.”
In 2012, Giroir played a major role in obtaining a federal grant that enabled the university to become one of several U.S.
The university partnered with GlaxoSmithKline, a leading vaccine manufacturer. In a 2013 news release, Giroir said the company’s cell-based vaccine program was “the most promising near term influenza vaccine technology” to improve upon the traditional methodology of using eggs.
When there was fear of an outbreak of Ebola virus cases in Texas, then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2014 appointed Giroir as chairman of a task force overseeing an effort to fight the disease.
In mid-2015, a new president, Michael Young, arrived at Texas A&M. Young asked some senior officials at the university to resign, while offering to keep them in their jobs for at least a year, Giroir told The Post.
Separately, the Eagle reported that the university said in a statement, “It is inaccurate and disingenuous at best to attribute growth in this area solely to Dr.
The vaccine manufacturing center was completed after Giroir’s departure, but his prediction that it would enable GlaxoSmithKline to produce a groundbreaking vaccine did not pan out. The company said in a statement that the “research underpinning the Texas A&M project did not prove fruitful,” leading federal authorities to halt funding.
The facility was acquired by a U.S.
John White, who as chairman of the Board of Regents recruited Giroir to the university, said in an interview, “Brett was the architect of all these wonderful things we had put in place.” Asked to assess Giroir’s impact, he said, “It is just difficult to sum it up because the journey continues. . . . Do I wish everything would have gone faster with more tangible results? Sure, but I’m not disappointed at all where it’s been and where it’s going.”
Of his vaccine work in Texas, he said, “It’s not entirely responsible for where we are by any means. But the work has really led to our ability to get a vaccine up to scale potentially in a year or a year and a half instead of five or seven years.”
Trump nominated him in 2017 to be assistant secretary for health at HHS. The nomination languished for months as some Democrats questioned Giroir’s commitment to women’s health issues, but he was confirmed.
Trump named Giroir as acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in late 2019, a position he held for two months while a new leader awaited confirmation.
Until now, some of Giroir’s
“I think it’s very clear that we don’t have models that completely recapitulate what the fetal tissue does,” Giroir told The Post. “And I just mean this honestly, what I advise the president, or what happens, that’s executive privilege. And I think it was widely reported that this was the president’s decision on the way to go. This was a presidential decision. And he’s the president; he gets to make those decisions.”
Alice Crites contributed to this report.