Why was the federal government slow and ineffective in its response to the AIDS epidemic?
I would argue that the federal response to this epidemic was slow because of the ways in which the disease spreads and the populations that tend to contract it.
AIDS, especially at first, was a disease of unpopular subgroups. At first, it was thought that only gay men got it. Even when that was proven wrong, it was gay men and drug users who tended to get it. These are not very politically popular groups and so there was little public pressure to help them.
Secondly, AIDS is generally transmitted either by sexual contact (and at that time, mostly by homosexual contact) or by sharing needles. Both of these were things that were not comfortable subjects for most Americans to talk about. This made it even less likely that pressure would be put on the government do act quickly and effectively.