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The White House Signals Support for the Centers for Disease Control’s Plans to Undergo Review

The agency received backlash under the Trump and Biden administrations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to undergo an evaluation after receiving much criticism throughout the COVID-19 pandemic got support from the White House this week 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, announced plans on Monday to revamp the agency after it has come under fire for various aspects of its coronavirus response during the Trump and Biden administrations, The Washington Post reported. Walensky hired an outside senior federal health official to conduct a one-month review to “kick off an evaluation of CDC’s structure, systems, and processes,” she wrote in an email to staff. Additionally, she tapped three senior officials to solicit feedback for “strategic change.”

During a briefing on Tuesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted the decision to review was driven by the agency.

“It’s not uncommon for a CDC director to take a careful look at the agency and assess its position to meet current public health needs and recommend improvements to systems, processes and structures,” Psaki said. “While this is something that is being done independent of the White House, we certainly support all [the] government working to improve systems and make things better.” 

The pandemic forced the CDC to make decisions quickly based on limited, real-time evolving science, Psaki continued, affirming Walensky’s comments in her email. 

“At the conclusion of this collective effort, we will develop new systems and processes to deliver our science and program to the American people, along with a plan for how CDC should be structured to facilitate the public health work we do,” Walensky wrote. The agency will look to bolsterings its data modernization, laboratory capacity, rapid response to disease outbreaks and preparedness for such, among other things. 

The criticism the CDC faced under the Trump administration was mainly about political interference in science. On the campaign trail and then once in office President Biden pledged to always follow the science, but under his administration the CDC has been criticized for its confusing guidance on quarantines and booster shots, and other messaging challenges. 

During an event on Tuesday hosted by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health five former CDC directors were asked about the forthcoming review and all generally agreed it was a good idea. 

“It’s very healthy to ask for outside help,” said Bill Foege, who was CDC director from 1977 to 1983. However, he wasn't sure if this particular review was going to be enough.

Julie Gerberding, chief patient officer and executive vice president of population health and sustainability at Merck, was CDC director from 2002 to 2009, and said it’s also important to look at the entire public health system, not just the CDC, which includes state, local and Tribal health systems. 

Robert Redfield, senior medical advisor at PERSOWN, a health diagnostics company, was CDC director from 2018 to 2021 and the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, urged a critical look at proportional investment in public health capacity, including data, the workforce and/or laboratories. Redfield also said that while he was aggressively criticized by former CDC directors during his tenure, he would not do that to Walensky.