Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky.

A new report released Wednesday says the CDC is too slow, too confusing, and must improve.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency has not lived up to the public’s “expectations” during the pandemic.
The report lays out several clear, actionable steps the agency can take now to do better. 

A blistering and exhaustive new independent review of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it loud and clear: The CDC needs to change. 

The report, led by longtime Department of Health and Human Services administrator Jim McCrae and released Wednesday by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, is blunt. McCrae concluded that the CDC hasn’t lived up to the task of delivering clear, thoughtful, and helpful guidance through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The CDC also isn’t diverse enough in its leadership, struggles with retention of top talent, and is generally too stuffy and elite — not as focused as it should be on health equity, and clear, actionable guidance to help Americans through health crises.

The authors of the report suggest several clear, actionable ways the agency can improve, to work faster, communicate better, and retain a diverse pool of top talent that “looks more like America.”

“For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID-19,” Director Walensky said in a statement Wednesday. “In our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations.”

To comprehensively assess the CDC, McCrae and his team interviewed 120 CDC staff (or, about 9% of the workforce), as well as dozens of others working outside and alongside the agency.

The findings may not come as a total surprise to Americans who’ve been trying to make sense of shifting COVID-19 guidance from the CDC for more than two years, or those who remember the early COVID-19 testing delays at the agency. 

“It takes too long for CDC to publish its data and science for decision making,” the report says. “The agency’s guidance documents are confusing and overwhelming; the website is not easy to navigate.”

8 steps to take — including plain language, speed, and diversity 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was started in 1946 to fight the spread of Malaria in the US. Today, the headquarters are in Atlanta.

The report found that the CDC needs to:

Use more “plain language” that doesn’t confuse or overwhelm the public: make the website easier to navigate, draft more FAQs, and put the “primary emphasis” on the public in all communications. Speed up: scientific review processes need to be faster, lab data needs to be available more quickly, and a new “pre-publication” system should be set up online, so information is publicly available sooner. Produce data for action (not just for publication.)Diversify, and build a new equity office: “A CDC that looks more like America will be better positioned to respond to outbreaks.”Improve retention, including more “competitive salaries” for “hard to fill positions like data scientists.” Move money faster during emergencies. Reduce paperwork.Mandate more data collection from jurisdictions across the country (like monkeypox, or COVID case numbers from states are territories.) 

The report also outlines other urgent actions the agency should take, including considering the health equity of all Americans across all of its public health work.

“As a long-time admirer of this agency and a champion for public health, I want us all to do better,” Walensky said.

“My goal is a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness.  I look forward to working with the incredible people at CDC and our partners to realize the agency’s fullest potential to benefit the health and well-being of all Americans.” 

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