January 12, 2009

CDC Director Resigns

Her watch over health issues in America has come to an end.

Dr. Julie Gerberding has resigned as director of the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will be replaced on an interim basis by a deputy as of Jan. 20, the day President-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated.

Gerberding, 53, was named CDC Director in July 2002. She was a relative newcomer to the agency; she had been an infectious diseases specialist at the University of California at San Francisco, and had joined the CDC in 1998 to head an agency patient safety initiative.

She led the nation's public health agency in a post-Sept. 11th world of bioterrorist fears, and was considered an effective communicator with legislators and the public.

Gerberding sent out her resignation Friday night in an email to employees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the umbrella agency over CDC.

Although an HHS housecleaning has been expected with the new administration, Gerberding's fate was somewhat unclear.

Colleagues said Gerberding quietly hoped she would be allowed to stay on after the passing of the Bush administration.

Speculation that she might remain was fueled by Obama's selection of Tom Daschle to as HHS Secretary.

Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader, is from South Dakota just like Gerberding. Last month, she issued a statement to the press praising Daschle and his "tradition of finding practical solutions to very tough problems."

"As part of the transition process, the Administration requested resignation letters from a number of senior-level officials, including Dr. Julie Gerberding. This week, the Administration accepted Dr. Gerberding's resignation, effective January 20," CDC spokesman Glen Nowak said in a prepared statement.

Nowak said Gerberding was unavailable for comment due to travel in Africa on CDC business.

Gerberding is head of the CDC and its sister agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The two have a budget of about $8.8 billion and more than 14,000 full-time, part-time and contract employees.

Some believe her CDC tenure was controversial.

Gerberding instituted a large, reorganization of the agency that triggered an exodus of admired agency scientists. She said the changes made the CDC stronger. But in 2005, five previous CDC directors wrote Gerberding a joint letter expressing their concern about what was happening to the agency.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the agency was criticized for being slow to respond to survivors' complaints about formaldehyde fumes in trailers that had been provided by the government.

Plus, in 2007, she was criticized for supporting the White House's editing of her Senate testimony on the impact of climate change on health, which involved deletion of key portions citing diseases that could flourish in a warmer climate.

Image Courtesy UPI


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