Nov. 3, 2022 -- Government restrictions hinder the CDC from doing the best possible job in a time of crisis, current and former agency officials are saying.
They’re hoping to persuade Congress for greater flexibility and support. Despite its multibillion-dollar budget, the CDC is unauthorized to hire consultants in an urgent situation.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, told CNN that she will ask Congress for flexibility to do that kind of hiring in a crisis. Other federal agencies already have that kind of authority.
Walensky said she hopes to “move the needle” by using “real-time examples of how public health has been hurt because of our inability to take action” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to be very clear that [we] are not asking for a blank-slate ability to release resources. What we’re saying is, in certain situations, we need to be nimble and act urgently in culturally sensitive ways that we don’t currently have the capacity to do,” Walensky said.
Dr. Tom Frieden was CDC director from 2009 - 2017. He said the agency suffered from the same limitations in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak.
“If we want CDC to get better at fighting diseases, we need to stop tying their hands behind their back,” he said. “This is the kind of torment of working within the government system.”
By comparison, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) can make certain types of contractual arrangements with outside organizations, their spokespeople told CNN.
“We’re not asking for money. We’re asking for capacity. We’re asking for authorities to be able to do our job,” Walensky said. “[But] I don’t know if I will be more successful than my predecessors.”