The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a new director, Dr. Mandy Cohen. Her predecessor, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, acknowledged CDC was “responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes—from testing, to data, to communications,” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, nothing indicates that Dr. Cohen has diagnosed the cause, much less prescribed a cure, for what ails the agency.
Dr. Cohen proposes restoring trust in the CDC by improving communications and “bringing the best evidence” to the public. This misses the fundamental problem.
A new study we wrote for the Paragon Health Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute reviewed the history, organization, and pandemic performance of the CDC. It identified the source of CDC’s pandemic failures as mission creep, abetted by the lack of congressional authorization for the agency. The CDC has grown into a large, diffuse agency with priorities that are far afield from its core mission of preventing and controlling communicable disease outbreaks. This lack of focus left the agency unprepared for the pandemic and distracted it from an effective response.
Unlike other significant agencies, Congress has never authorized the CDC. No single enabling statute defines the agency’s goals, powers, and structure. It was created by executive action in 1946 as the Communicable Disease Center and has since expanded in the executive branch largely through unauthorized congressional appropriations.
The lack of direct congressional authorization, aggressive efforts by the CDC’s early directors to expand the agency’s purview and the willingness of executive branch officials to delegate authority to CDC, led to a rapid and haphazard expansion of the agency’s responsibilities beyond its original purpose.
CDC priorities now include “the climate crisis,” “reducing racial disparities in public health,” “social determinants of health,” and the “growing crises of domestic, sexual, and gun violence.” Just a small fraction of CDC resources is devoted to communicable disease threats.
CDC’s disparate centers and programs are disconnected from each other and from state and local authorities, and duplicate programs in other agencies including, but not limited to, various institutes within the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Some CDC priorities are barely health issues at all and have long been addressed by social service and law enforcement agencies. These redundancies are unnecessary, costly, and divert the CDC from its primary purpose.
Read the full article at Fox News.