WASHINGTON — Moncef Slaoui, the controversial head of Operation Warp Speed, will serve as a consultant in the Biden administration, he confirmed Wednesday. He suggested it would be a less active role than his current position, as the initiative’s chief adviser.
“I will continue to support as needed, I think we are getting close to the point where my value add is more limited and therefore I’ll expect my activity to decrease gradually after January 21,” Slaoui told STAT Wednesday during a briefing with reporters.
Slaoui added that he expected to leave the initiative after two vaccines were authorized, but that he recently decided to extend his tenure in government.
The news of Slaoui’s new role in the Biden administration is surprising. In recent days, President-elect Biden has vociferously criticized Operation Warp Speed for its failure to effectively distribute vaccines quickly. Slaoui, who previously promised that the Trump administration would administer 20 million doses in December, has been at the center of that controversy.
The move may also anger Biden’s liberal base. Liberal groups like Public Citizen and lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have called for Slaoui’s firing over perceived conflicts of interest. Slaoui’s current contract has allowed him to keep millions of dollars in pharmaceutical stock while still serving as Warp Speed’s chief adviser. It’s not clear if Slaoui’s new role as consultant will come with a requirement that he sells those stocks.
The other head of Operation Warp Speed, Gen. Gus Perna, told STAT he has not been told whether he will remain at the initiative. He added that, “I’m here until my part of the mission is done or I’m told otherwise.” Perna, a four-star military general, currently serves as the operation’s chief operating officer and its top adviser on vaccine distribution.
The incoming Biden administration has not said publicly whether Slaoui or Perna would be asked to stay on. They did not respond to requests for comment on this article.
The Biden transition did, however, announce a raft of appointees last week who would coordinate the vaccine effort. They include Bechara Choucair, a former executive at Kaiser Permanente, who will serve as Biden’s vaccine coordinator, and Tim Manning, a former FEMA official who will serve as supply coordinator.