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Sen. Burr Releases New Report on CDC Pandemic Response, Recommendations for Agency Reform

Burr: “Cultural and structural changes are necessary to ensure the CDC is better able to respond to the next public health threat.”

Today, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a new policy brief highlighting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) challenges and missteps during the coronavirus pandemic and key recommendations for reforms.

The brief, titled “Modernizing CDC: Ensuring a Strategic Approach and Improving Accountability,” is the first in a series of policy briefs examining and offering recommendations on the federal government’s pandemic preparedness, response, and recovery efforts.

“As America turns the corner in the fight against COVID-19, now is the time to evaluate our pandemic response and learn what worked, what didn’t, and how we can improve the current framework,” said Senator Burr. “One of the most obvious lessons we’ve learned is Americans need to be able to trust the guidance issued by public health officials will be clear, consistent, and follow the best available science. Throughout the pandemic, the CDC failed to meet the mark. Its guidance and public statements have been contradictory, confused, and often lagged behind the latest science. The public’s trust in the CDC’s ability to fulfill its core mission has been threatened by a series of missteps.

“The CDC has also struggled to fully leverage new technologies and public-private partnerships, creating delays when we could least afford them. Early in the pandemic, problems with the CDC-developed COVID-19 test led to an unacceptable shortage of reliable tests at a critical moment.

“The CDC must be able to keep pace with the rapid developments, using the latest technology to advance the public health. This report outlines the cultural and structural changes necessary to ensure the CDC is better able to respond to the next public health threat. It recommends strong, accountable leadership, strategic planning to make sure the agency’s programs are supporting its priorities, and the development of effective public-private partnerships.”

Key Recommendations:

The policy brief, “Modernizing CDC: Ensuring a Strategic Approach and Improving Accountability,” includes the following recommendations:

  • CDC needs strong, effective leadership to lead cultural change at the agency, ensuring its scientific integrity and relationship with the public as a trusted source for public health information are preserved. A key aspect of ensuring this type of leadership is accountability to Congress. While Congress engages with and oversees the agency through authorizations and appropriations for its specific programs and hearings, more should be done to strengthen this relationship and enhance the accountability of CDC and its leaders.
  • CDC needs a strategic plan to guide and prioritize the agency’s work to align with strategically set goals and include accompanying performance measures. Such a plan must consider statutory requirements, overall mission, and how each program fits within the larger agency mission. By having a clear, focused strategy and performance measures in place, Americans can be assured that CDC’s mission is well-defined and the actions being taken by the agency align with this mission.
  • CDC must keep pace with scientific advancement and better fulfill its mission to protect the public health during future responses by developing more frequent and effective partnerships with private industry and academic institutions. Effective partnerships with non-governmental actors will help CDC leverage their capacities and capabilities, especially regarding the need for new technology and information systems. CDC should evaluate areas in which strategic partnerships could advance its public health preparedness mission for the future and encourage the establishment and success of these partnerships. 

To read the full policy brief, click here.