CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky met with senior management at the agency this morning to outline her plans for overhauling the way the agency works. She plans to recreate the culture to help the agency act faster when it responds to a public health crisis. She also wants to make it easier for other parts of government to work with the CDC, as well as simplifying and streamlining the website to remove overlapping and conflicting public health guidelines.
“My goal is a new public health-focused action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication and timeliness. I look forward to working with the incredible people at CDC and our partners to unlock the full potential of the agency to benefit the health and well-being of all Americans,” Walensky said in a statement Wednesday.
Staff have been notified of the plans by email. More than 12,000 people work at the agency, which is headquartered in Atlanta.
The changes are aimed at improving culture and restoring public confidence following the agency’s acknowledged missteps in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new marching orders come after significant stumbling blocks at the agency in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The US had little capacity to test for infection during the early months of the pandemic, largely because the agency released a flawed test to public health labs. That kept the nation blind to the extent of the virus’s spread for months.
The agency has also been criticized during the pandemic for issuing public health guidelines that some considered confusing and ineffective. Many also felt that it was not fast enough to respond.
“For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for Covid-19, and at our big moment, our performance has not reliably lived up to expectations,” Walensky acknowledged in her statement.
Walensky will bring former HHS Assistant Secretary Mary Wakefield to the CDC to oversee the reorganization.
One of the key measures announced today is that the Department of Laboratory Sciences and the Office of Sciences will now report directly to the CDC director, a shift that aims to give them more responsibility and more quickly announce the results of their work. at the public.
The agency will also create a new office for intergovernmental affairs — a hub where state health departments and other federal agencies communicate with CDC.
Walensky will convene an executive council that will determine the agency’s priorities, monitor its progress and factor budget decisions.
The agency will start a new stock office that aims to increase diversity in the CDC’s workforce and add that lens to its public health activities.
The CDC also plans to create a new online mechanism for science pre-publication, and it will give its website a makeover by streamlining and simplifying its guidance to the public and healthcare providers..
Walensky also plans to ask Congress to grant the agency new powers, including requiring jurisdictions to share their data. Currently, CDC relies on states and provinces to do so voluntarily.
She will also be calling for new flexibility in the agency’s funding. Right now, when Congress allocates money to the CDC, it must be spent on specific programs. This has resulted in more than 150 separate budget lines funding the agency. That could be a problem if a public health emergency arises. In 2014, when the Ebola epidemic started, Dr. Tom Frieden, then CDC director, borrowed money from other parts of the federal government to respond.
“We literally had no money for airfare and per diem to send personnel into the field,” said Frieden, who was interviewed by Macrae for his review.
“I literally had 20 times more flexible dollars as a New York City health commissioner than I did as a CDC director,” Frieden said in an interview with DailyExpertNews. Frieden now heads the nonprofit Resolve to Save Lives.
Some of those changes have already been initiated, including a reorganization of the agency’s communications activities.
Earlier this year, the CDC filled a long-vacant position when it hired Kevin Griffis, a veteran of public affairs with the Department of Health and Human Services and Planned Parenthood, to lead its communications efforts. In addition to communicating the CDC’s health information, part of its job is to manage “risk communications and reputation issues for the agency,” according to the CDC website. The agency hasn’t had a head of communications in four years, according to a senior official with knowledge of the changes who was not authorized to speak to reporters.
A final version of Macrae’s review is expected to be released on Wednesday. The main recommendations include:
• Share scientific findings and data faster
• Know how to translate better into practical, easy-to-understand policy
• Prioritize public health communications
• Emphasis on publishing scientific findings for career advancement
• New training for agency workers to enable multiple people to play the same role in public health emergencies