The controversial tenure of CDC Director Julie Gerberding will end Jan. 20 —- after Barack Obama is sworn in as president, employees of the Atlanta-based agency were informed in an e-mail sent late Friday evening.
Buh-bye, Julie, welcome back, science!
Until a new director is named, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s chief operating officer, Bill Gimson, will be acting director, the e-mail said.
Gerberding was the first woman to lead the agency, which has about 9,000 government employees and 5,000 contract workers.
Gerberding’s six years leading one of the nation’s most trusted institutions were marked by numerous controversies, from allegations that she allowed politics to interfere with science to concerns that her strategic decisions incapacitated the agency’s ability to respond in a public health crisis.
Through it all, Gerberding maintained that the changes she initiated at the agency had made it stronger and better able to do its job in a post-9/11 world. During her tenure, she has expressed pride in the agency’s response to outbreaks of SARS and monkeypox, its groundbreaking research into avian influenza and other diseases. In the past year, she increasingly spoke out on topics related to health care reform —- a key topic in the presidential election —- and the importance of preventing disease before it needs treatment.
Yet, for much of her tenure, many CDC employees lacked confidence in her vision for the agency. Just 48 percent of CDC staff said they had a high level of respect for the agency’s senior leaders, according to results released last year of a federal survey of government employees.
Last year, congressional investigators concluded the CDC failed “in almost every respect” to protect Hurricane Katrina’s victims from dangerous formaldehyde fumes in government-provided trailers. And Gerberding was accused of playing politics by refusing to reappoint the director of the agency’s worker safety division —- a man widely respected by business leaders, labor unions and lawmakers.
Gerberding drew fire from Democratic lawmakers in 2007 when she delivered testimony to Congress about the health effects of climate change that had been censored by the White House.
In 2003, Gerberding launched a massive reorganization of the CDC that many employees say plunged the nation’s 911 system for public health into turmoil and caused an exodus of key scientific staff.
In December 2005, five former CDC directors sent Gerberding a highly unusual joint letter warning that the agency was in trouble in the wake of her reorganization. They were alarmed by the departures of critical staff.
Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, who preceded Gerberding as CDC director and was one of the authors of the letter, served on the Obama transition team for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HHS is the parent agency of the CDC.