CDC director announces restructuring of federal health agency: reports

Walensky rolls out plan to leaders, says pandemic performance “did not reliably meet expectations.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will restructure to gain speed and flexibility to act on its mission of protecting public health through preparedness, disease prevention and health promotion.

CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, unveiled her plan to senior leaders of the Atlanta-based health agency on Aug. 17, according to reports from a number of national news agencies. CDC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was a factor in the shake-up, according to the national news reports.

“For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” Walensky said in a statement published by political website The Hill. “As a long-time admirer of this agency and a champion for public health, I want us all to do better, and it starts with CDC leading the way.”

Organizational changes will include having the Division Laboratory Sciences and the Office of Science will report directly to the CDC director, “a move aimed at improving accountability of the delivery of timely information,” according to a report by CNN.

CDC will create a new executive council that reports to the director on priorities, progress and budget decisions geared for public health, and a new equity office to increase diversity in the agency’s 12,000 employees, according to CNN. The agency will publish scientific reports more quickly and will revamp its communications office and websites to make the agency’s guidance for the public clearer and easier to find, an ABC News report said.

Various national news reports did not include details on how the restructuring could affect primary care around the nation.

For more than two years, the CDC has faced criticism for the agency’s role in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Politico.com cited two reviews from recent months, by Health Resources and Services Administration James Macrae MA, MPP, who examined the pandemic response, and by CDC Chief of Staff Sherri Berger, MSPH, who looked at CDC operations.

The reviews concluded that the “traditional scientific and communication processes were not adequate to effectively respond to a crisis the size and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to an agency statement city by Politico.

More recently, Scott Gottlieb, MD, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, criticized the CDC’s responses to COVID-19 and monkeypox with the column “Monkeypox Is About to Become the Next Public Health Failure,” published July 30 in The New York Times. Reports about the rapid spread of monkeypox “should have been a code red for federal infectious disease response,” but CDC action was not fast enough to quash the outbreak, Gottlieb said.

“The CDC should lead America’s response to viral exigencies,” Gottlieb wrote. “But the agency isn’t a crisis organization. It lacks the infrastructure to mobilize a rapid response and is too hidebound and process driven to move quickly. Its cultural instinct is to take a deliberative approach, debating each decision. With Covid, the virus ‌‌gained ground quickly. With ‌‌monkeypox, which spreads more slowly, typically through very close contact, the shortcomings of CDC’s cultural approach haven’t been as acute yet. But the shortfalls are the same.”