The head of America’s top public health agency on Wednesday announced a shake-up intended to make the organization more nimble.
Planned changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC leaders call this a “reset” – amid ongoing criticism of the agency’s response to COVID-19, monkeypox and other public health threats. Changes include internal staffing moves and steps to speed up data release.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Valensky told agency employees about the changes on Wednesday. This is a CDC initiative, and was not directed by White House or other administration officials, she said.
“I think it’s my responsibility to take this agency to a better place after a really challenging three years,” Valensky told the Associated Press.
The CDC, with a budget of $12 billion and more than 11,000 employees, is an Atlanta-based federal agency charged with protecting Americans from disease outbreaks and other public health threats. It is customary for each CDC director to do some restructuring, but Valensky’s action comes amid widespread calls for change.
The agency has long been criticized for focusing on the collection and analysis of data, but not acting quickly against new health threats. But public unhappiness with the agency increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts said the CDC was slow to identify how much of the virus was entering the US from Europe, advising people to wear masks, saying the virus could be spread by air, and settling for new forms. To speed up testing.
Jason Schwartz, a health policy researcher at the Yale School of Public Health, said, “We saw during COVID that the structures of the CDC were, clearly, not designed to take information, digest it, and spread it to the public at the speed needed. “
Valensky, who became director in January 2021, has long said the agency needs to move faster and communicate better, but stumbles have come up during his tenure.
In April, she called for a thorough review of the agency, which resulted in the announced changes. Her reorganization proposal must be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary. CDC officials say they expect a full package of changes to be finalized, approved and underway by early next year.
Some changes are still being worked out, but the steps announced on Wednesday include:
– Increasing the use of preprint scientific reports to obtain actionable data, rather than waiting for research through peer review and publication by the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Reorganize the Agency’s Office of Communications and further improve the CDC websites to make the agency’s guidance more clear and easy to find for the public.
-Changing the period of time that agency leaders devote to outbreak responses to at least six months – an attempt to address a turnover problem that sometimes causes knowledge gaps and affects agency communications does.
Formation of a new Executive Council to help Volensky set strategy and priorities.
-Appointing Mary Wakefield as Senior Counsel for implementing the changes. Wakefield led the Health Resources and Services Administration during the Obama administration and also served as the No. 2 administrator at HHS. Wakefield, 68, started on Monday.
Changing the agency’s organization chart to undo some of the changes made during the Trump administration.
Establishment of an Office of Intergovernmental Affairs for smooth partnership with other agencies, as well as a high-level Office on Health Equity.
Valensky also said that she intends to “get rid of some of the reporting layers, and I want to work to break down some of the silos.” She didn’t specify exactly what that might be involved, but emphasized that CDC was more about redrawing the organization chart than rethinking how it does business and motivates employees. Overall changes are minimal.
“It won’t be the only moving boxes” on the organization chart, she said.
Schwartz said the flaws in the federal response went well beyond the CDC, as the White House and other agencies were heavily involved.
A CDC restructuring is a positive step but “I hope this is not the end of the story,” Schwartz said. He would like to see “a comprehensive accounting” of how the federal government handles health crises.