The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is in “a moment of peril” and a “strong, effective, and more accountable” agency is an urgent matter of national security, according to a new report from the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ (CSIS) Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security.
“This report argues that a significant reset of the CDC is necessary – and possible – if carried out through building actionable recommendations across branches of government and across party lines,” Katherine Bliss, a senior fellow at CSIS, a Washington think tank, said during an event on Tuesday marking the report’s release. The event included CSIS experts, elected officials and public health experts, including past leaders of the CDC.
Reshaping the CDC will need to be a joint effort with the agency’s leaders and the federal government, the report says. It outlines a number of recommendations for the CDC to regain the public’s trust and to become more flexible and accountable, Bliss said.
According to the report, the CDC needs to strengthen its global work in order to detect and prepare for new epidemic threats, improve its data collection process, and it needs to be able to move money in its budget to respond to crises.
“The big picture here is, we all see the need for a reset of the agency. Some of the reset has to be structural, some of it needs to be activity that only Congress can really manage and that has to do with how the budget is structured, the size and scope of the budget and the flexibilities or lack thereof,” said Julie Gerberding, who was the CDC director from 2002 to 2009, and is co-chair of the CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security. “And some of it has to do with, I think, modernization – really looking at how the CDC can take advantage of data science and the opportunities to build better data systems, more interoperable data systems and really complete the trajectory that they’ve already started with the data modernization act.”
In August, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walenksy laid out plans to overhaul the agency and create a “public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness” after a sweeping review of the agency’s structures and systems.
She said she would ask Congress to grant the agency new powers, including mandating that jurisdictions share their data and for new flexibilities in the agency’s funding, which would allow the CDC to better respond to public health emergencies.
Walensky and other CDC senior leaders met with the CSIS commission’s working group to help explain what they learned from their own internal review, Gerberding said.
CNN has reached out to the CDC for comment about the report.
The working group also took issue with the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters, saying it limits access to policymakers.
Gerberding said a bigger presence in Washington, D.C., is important.
“If you want to play, you gotta be in the game and the game is not played in Atlanta, unless, you know, you’re a fan of the baseball team there,” she said.
But ultimately, the working group said, the CDC has faced a lot of pressure and challenges over the last three years during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I do really want to emphasize that while there is substantial opportunity here for evolution, modernization and performance improvement at the CDC, it has also done a lot of things well and we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that in the midst of a pandemic there were many other public health activities going on. CDC teams were deployed all over the United States and internationally to assist with local response efforts. The CDC Foundation stepped up and engaged some 3,000 or more people to help the workforce shortages and so forth,” Gerberding said. “So there were a lot of very positive things that happened and we need to make sure that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here when we’re looking at the really critical things that need to be fixed, but also to appreciate and respect what our public health system has been able to accomplish for the past three years.”
“There’s a lot of incredible talent, passion and capability at the CDC and, you know, I’ve seen them do miracles,” she added.