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August 18, 2022

CDC ‘Reorganization’ Is Just Another Power Grab

We don’t trust Director Rochelle Walensky’s plan to correct pandemic mistakes.

If a government agency issued faulty and politically charged guidance that led to two and a half years of economic upheaval and devastation, should that agency get away with “fixing things” by adding a bit of spit and polish to go along with an expansion?

[Insert colorful adjective] no!

Yet that is exactly what Rochelle Walensky says she’s going to lead at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After ordering an internal review of the CDC, where she’s been director since January 2021, Walensky says she’ll undertake the effort to revamp some things because it’s her “responsibility to lead this agency to a better place after a really challenging three years.”

Addressing CDC bureaucrats, she said, “To be frank, we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes, from testing to data to communications.” That’s putting it mildly. “This is our watershed moment,” she added. “We must pivot.”

“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,” Walensky said in a statement. “My goal is a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness.”

With 11,000 employees and an annual budget of $12 billion, this ought to be a welcome review and change. But it’s a government bureaucracy, which at best means changes will be about 10% substance and 90% fragrance. The ugly reality is that the 10% substance will be bad.

Rich Besser, acting CDC director during the Obama administration, noted one problem in particular: Most of those 11,000 employees still aren’t back working in the office. “I worry about the ability to affect culture change, when the agency is still largely remote,” he said. “I would want to be standing in front of the agency and laying out a vision and inspiring people toward that change. And then I would want to be walking the halls … but my understanding is that the buildings are still pretty much empty.”

That’s odd. Why, after 30 months, are CDC employees still not back at the office if the CDC just suddenly discovered natural immunity in significantly revising its COVID guidelines?

In any case, Walensky has been the person in charge of many of the CDC’s mistakes, and it’s not entirely clear what she thinks those mistakes actually are. We know the biggest mistakes include guidance (crafted in collusion with Democrat-run teachers unions) that resulted in shutting down schools and much of the economy. So why is Walensky the person to make corrections? And what corrections?

According to The Dispatch, “Among other changes, Walensky wants to clarify the CDC’s guidance documents, rework its promotion system to reward effective policy execution over publication in scientific journals, and ask Congress to let the CDC mandate state data reporting, offer more competitive salaries, and hire faster.”

Translation for non-Beltway types: This is not some incredible introspective admission of guilt and promise of change; this is about building an even bigger bureaucracy and accumulating more power for unaccountable hacks.

The only “pivot” here is a power grab while pretending to fix a few incorrect incentives and bureaucratic errors with a smattering of false humility.

If that sounds too cynical to you, try to think of a time a giant bureaucracy legitimately fixed itself from within. More than a million Americans have died of COVID (comorbidities and counting issues duly noted). That number may not have been much better with a fully competent CDC given that the coronavirus was likely a manipulated virus released from a lab — a virus that was going to claim lives almost no matter what we did. But how many people died because the CDC was so untrustworthy? Or because politicians relying on the CDC issued rules and regulations that made things worse?

Public opinion isn’t the final arbiter of truth, but it’s fascinating to see the change in Americans’ thinking about the CDC. In March 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, the Pew Research Center found that 79% of Americans approved of the CDC and other public health officials. By May 2022, that was down to 52%, and frankly we’re surprised it’s that high. Walensky has been in charge at the CDC during much of that failure, so, again, why does she get to keep her job and decide what changes are made?

Final question: How is it that Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health bureaucrat behind all of the pandemic overkill, gets away unscathed and uncriticized? He’s not at the CDC, but why does he get to ride off into the sunset of retirement at his own leisure?

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