CDC Announces Major Overhaul After Botched Covid Response

CDC Announces Major Overhaul After Botched Covid Response

Pavlo Gonchar / SOPA Images/Sipa USA
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Good Wednesday evening. Here’s what’s happening.

CDC Announces Major Overhaul After Botched Covid Response

The leader of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced an organizational “reset” Wednesday in response to the agency’s widely criticized performance during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“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,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “I want us all to do better and it starts with CDC leading the way.  My goal is a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication and timeliness.”

The nation’s public health agency stumbled from the outset of the Covid crisis in early 2020. Its first test for the virus was flawed, delaying the rollout of a national testing and monitoring program for several critical weeks. The CDC’s public communications were criticized for being unclear, and the agency was hammered for being too close to the Trump administration, which stood accused of politicizing the government’s response to the pandemic.

A four-month review of the agency’s performance led by Jim Macrae, an official in the Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that the CDC failed to meet its own expectations. The review criticized the agency for failing to share information in a timely manner and for being unclear about the agency’s “current level of understanding” of the state of the disease throughout the pandemic.

Making corrections: Walensky made it clear that she wants to enact major reforms. “Prior to this pandemic, our infrastructure within the agency and around the country was too frail to tackle what we confronted with Covid-19,” she said in a video address to CDC staff. “To be frank, we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes — from testing, to data, to communications.”

Walensky has appointed former Health and Human Services Department Deputy Secretary Mary Wakefield to oversee changes in the organization, which include the creation of a new executive council that will define the agency’s priorities, monitor progress and make budgetary decisions.

The CDC also plans to overhaul staff training, improve lab facilities and make its public-facing website easier to use and understand.

The agency did not say how much these changes are expected to cost but will seek funding to execute the planned improvements in its next budget request.

Another threat to address: The organizational changes can’t come too soon, since the CDC is under fire again for its handling of monkeypox, which started spreading in the U.S. in the spring. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb accused the CDC of failing with the latest outbreak in all too familiar ways.

“Our country’s response to monkeypox has been plagued by the same shortcomings we had with Covid-19,” Gottlieb wrote in The New York Times in late July. “Now if monkeypox gains a permanent foothold in the United States and becomes an endemic virus that joins our circulating repertoire of pathogens, it will be one of the worst public health failures in modern times not only because of the pain and peril of the disease but also because it was so avoidable.”

Quote of the Day: The Fed Drops Some Dovish Hints

“Participants judged that, as the stance of monetary policy tightened further, it likely would become appropriate at some point to slow the pace of policy rate increases while assessing the effects of cumulative policy adjustments on economic activity and inflation.”

From the newly released minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s July meeting. The minutes include “some dovish hints that officials are growing more worried about tightening policy too far over the coming months,” Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, told clients.

Will the Fed slow its campaign of interest rate hikes after extraordinary, back-to-back 0.75 percentage point increases? Goldman Sachs analysts expect an increase of half a percentage point in September and 0.25 percentage points in November and December, but J.P. Morgan still sees the Fed hiking by 75 basis points at its next meeting, with a chance of a smaller hike if the next monthly jobs report shows slowing growth.

The Battle to Define Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act

The ad wars have begun.

As we mentioned yesterday, now that President Joe Biden has signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, Democrats will be looking to sell the public on the benefits of the legislation. Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to define the bill in voters’ minds as a threatening boost to the Internal Revenue Service and a broad-based tax hike in the midst of a recession — a move, they argue, that violates Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year.

Reuters’ Trevor Hunnicutt reports that Democrats and their allies have big plans to back the new law: “In the coming days, millions of dollars will flow into congressional races from groups outside the Democratic Party to tout Biden's $430 billion climate, healthcare and tax bill called the ‘Inflation Reduction Act,’ aides and allies to Biden tell Reuters.”

That spending may be crucial, as Hunnicutt notes that six in 10 voters either haven’t heard of the Democratic bill or know almost nothing about it, per a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted earlier this month.

Republicans have sought to fill that knowledge gap, often by mischaracterizing the Democratic legislation.

In one of the latest attacks on the package, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) this week published an open letter advising job seekers not to apply for IRS positions funded by the new law. “These new positions at the IRS will not offer you the long-term job stability you may expect from a position with the federal government,” Scott wrote. “Put another way: this will be a short-term gig. Republicans will take over the House and Senate in January, and I can promise you that we will immediately do everything in our power to defund this insane and unwarranted expansion of government into the lives of the American people.”

Scott’s letter included other claims about the new law that have been debunked. And NBC’s Sahil Kapur writes that Scott’s threat to eliminate new IRS jobs is, for now, an empty one. “It's unclear if Republicans will win full control of Congress — and if they did, President Joe Biden would still have veto power to prevent them from undoing his signature legislation,” Kapur notes. “But the [Scott] missive represents a dramatic escalation in Republican attacks on a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act bolstering the IRS — part of a strategy to stir up anti-government voters with deep misgivings about the agency ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.”

The bottom line: It’s not clear yet how central a role the Inflation Reduction Act will play in midterm election campaigning, given that other issues — from abortion rights to Donald Trump — could loom large. For now, though, Democrats have increased reason for optimism that the legislative victory will translate to improved results at the ballot box. A new Politico/Morning Consult Poll finds that Biden’s approval rating edged up 3 percentage points over the past week. Still, it remains at a less-than-robust 42%.

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