Thomas Gallatin / May 15, 2020

Bigger Budget Didn’t Make CDC Better

The CDC’s massive spending increase has done little other than grow its own bureaucracy.

As the old adage says, money can’t buy love, but it also appears that money can’t buy competency — at least when it comes to government bureaucracy. Case in point is the Centers for Disease Control and its abysmal response to the greatest threat to public health the nation has seen in generations.

Since 1987, the CDC budget has grown 14 times larger, with the promise that doing so “saves lives and protects people from health threats.” Reason’s Eric Boehm explains, “The CDC’s budget has ballooned from $590 million in 1987 to more than $8 billion last year. If the agency had grown with inflation since 1987, it would have a budget of about $1.3 billion today. Total federal spending, meanwhile, has grown from a hair over $1 trillion in 1987 to $4.4 trillion last year — which means that the CDC’s budget has grown faster the government’s overall spending.” And yet, it appears this massive budgeting increase has ironically contributed to the CDC being less able to fulfill its mission of saving and protecting people’s lives and health. Why?

As Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Michelle Minton argues in a recent study, “The CDC devolved into an agency incapable of adequately addressing the serious threat posed by infectious disease, particularly novel diseases for which there is little information about risk, spread, and treatment.” The root of the problem has everything to do with the CDC expanding far beyond its original mission.

One aspect of CDC bloat and mission creep is that it has essentially doubled up on research that falls under other agencies’ purview. “In 2019, the CDC spent $1.1 billion on its National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, which focuses on ailments like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes,” observes Reason. “The CEI report notes that there are at least 10 other federally funded agencies — mostly within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — engaged in similar health and wellness research.”

Another example is $1.75 million spent for a “Hollywood liaison” to help screenwriters produce “more accurate storylines about infectious diseases.”

In 2007, the late Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) issued a report that called the CDC’s spending of $109.8 million for a new headquarters in Atlanta “questionable.” The report also noted that the CDC used “tens of millions of dollars for programs ranging from HIV/AIDS prevention to bioterrorism preparation that lack adequate oversight.”

So, rather than spending its budget and energy on its original mission, the CDC greatly expanded its scope. That might be forgivable if the CDC hadn’t displayed such a profound lack of preparedness and competence in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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