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CDC announces sweeping restructuring aimed at changing agency culture and restoring public trust

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CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Wallenski met with senior officials at the agency this morning to lay out plans to overhaul how the agency works. We plan to remake the culture so that we can act She also wants to make it easier for other departments of government to work with her CDC, and wants to simplify and streamline the website to remove duplicate and conflicting public health guidance.

Staff will be notified of any changes by email. Headquartered in Atlanta, the agency employs more than 12,000 people.

The changes are aimed at improving culture and restoring public confidence after the authorities’ perceived failure in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The reform follows a period of review and introspection at the CDC. In April, Wallenski announced that Jim McRae, deputy administrator for primary health care at the Department of Health Resources Services, would lead a month-long review of the agency’s Covid-19 response efforts. She ordered her three agents to review the operation and recommend strategic changes. Wallenski is meeting in person with a group of staff as they return to the office after months of remote work.

The course correction comes after a significant setback in the agency’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The United States had little capacity to test for infections in the early months of the pandemic. This is largely because the agency released flawed tests to the Public Health Lab. It blinded the country for months to the extent of the spread of the virus.

Officials have also been criticized throughout the pandemic for issuing public health guidance that some deemed confusing and ineffective. was

Wallenski brings former HHS Deputy Commissioner Mary Wakefield to the CDC to oversee the reorganization.

Key organizational changes announced today include:

• Division Laboratory Sciences and Office of Science now report directly to the CDC Director in a move aimed at improving accountability for timely information delivery.

• New Office of Intergovernmental Affairs—a hub through which state health departments and other federal agencies interact with the CDC.

• A new Executive Council, reporting to the Director, will focus on public health impact, determine agency priorities, track progress, and coordinate budget decisions.

• New Equity Office. Increase the diversity of CDC employees and add that lens to public health efforts.

Additional actions announced today include:

• CDC will create a new online mechanism for pre-publication distribution of scientific information.

• Agencies plan to streamline and simplify guidance documents and websites.

Wallenski also plans to ask Congress to grant new powers to government agencies, including requiring jurisdictions to share data. Currently, CDC relies on states and counties to voluntarily do so.

She also intends to seek new flexibility in agency funding. Currently, when Congress allocates money to the CDC, that money must be spent on specific programs. This created over 150 individual budget lines to fund agencies. This can be a problem during public health emergencies. When the Ebola epidemic began in 2014, then-CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden had to borrow money from other branches of the federal government for the response.

“We literally didn’t have the plane tickets or the per diem money to staff the site,” said Frieden, who was interviewed by Macrae for the review.

In an interview with CNN, Frieden said, “I literally had 20 times more flexible dollars as New York City’s health commissioner than I did as director of the CDC. Frieden now runs the nonprofit Resolve to Save Lives. is leading the

Some of these changes have already begun, such as the reorganization of government agency communications operations.

Earlier this year, the CDC hired Kevin Griffiths, a public relations veteran for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Family Planning Service, to fill a long-vacant position by leading communications efforts. Part of his job, in addition to communicating health information for the CDC, is managing “agency risk communication and reputational issues,” according to the CDC’s website. The agency has had no head of communications for him for four years, according to a senior official with knowledge of the changes, who is not authorized to speak to the press.

The final draft of Macrae’s review is released today. Here are the main recommendations:

• Share scientific findings and data faster

• Do a better job of translating science into practical and understandable policy.

• Prioritize public health communications

• Do not emphasize the publication of scientific findings for career advancement

• New training for agency staff to ensure that multiple people can play the same role in public health emergencies.

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