New CDC Chief Takes Pay Cut After Senator's Complaint

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., had asked why the salary was so high. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., had asked why the salary was so high. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

After five weeks on the job, Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Robert Redfield agreed to a pay cut, the Health and Human Services Department confirmed.

The former University of Maryland AIDS research standout appointed by President Trump was paid $375,000 under a special hiring authority, far more than the pay of his predecessors.

After a report from the Associated Press, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., last Thursday wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar questioning why Redfield was being paid a high government salary under U.S. Code Title 42, a section designed to attract top scientists and other specialists to government work.

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“It is difficult to understand why someone with limited public health experience, particularly in a leadership role, is being disproportionately compensated for his work as compared to other accomplished scientists and public health leaders in comparable roles within the federal government,” Murray wrote. She asked Azar a series of questions and requested a staff briefing on how the decision was made to use Title 42 given that the directorship of the CDC does not involve active scientific research. In her letter, copied to committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., she stressed that recruiting requirements under Title 42 may not have been followed.

HHS on Tuesday released a statement to Government Executive saying, “Dr. Redfield has expressed to Secretary Azar that he does not wish to have his compensation become a distraction for the important work of the CDC. Therefore, consistent with Dr. Redfield’s request to the Secretary, Dr. Redfield’s compensation will be adjusted accordingly.”

The exact amount of the pay reduction was not made available.

“The CDC is respected and renowned worldwide for its expertise in preventing, detecting and responding to infectious disease outbreaks,” HHS national spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in an earlier statement about the controversy. “The recruitment of Dr. Robert Redfield was a rare opportunity to hire one of the world’s leading virologists. Dr. Redfield has over 30 years of experience as a groundbreaking scientist, academic researcher, and clinician who has been a global leader in the fight against one of the most devastating infectious diseases of our time—HIV/AIDS. The selection of Dr. Redfield was the right choice at the right time for the right purpose.”

Murray had pointed out in her letter that Redfield’s $375,000 salary was far higher than that of predecessors such as Brenda Fitzgerald ($197,300, according to news reports, before she resigned in January) and Tom Frieden ($219,000).

It is also higher than the special salaries of National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the senator added.

She also pointed to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report faulting HHS’s documentation of recruiting efforts that led to offering the higher Title 42 salaries intended for research practitioners.

Redfield’s most recent salary with bonuses at the University of Maryland Medical School was reported by The New York Times at $757,100

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