Dec 8, 2022 - Health

CDC director Walensky calls for more authority from Congress

CDC director Rochelle Walensky answers is seen during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky is seen during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in 2021. Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

If Congress wants to see a more effective and modernized Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it needs to give it more authority, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said at the Milken Institute Future of Health Summit on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Her call for more support from Congress comes as the Biden administration has continued to push for additional COVID funds that have, thus far, been batted down by Republicans and some Democrats for much of the year.

State of play: Walensky said she's been on Capitol Hill advocating for the agency to have the power to compel health data sharing from states, local health departments and providers.

  • "We have to have the authorities to be more nimble. We cannot compel data to come to CDC," Walensky said. "I think people anticipate that we have access to data that we're somehow not transmitting or being transparent about."

Between the lines: The CDC has come under frequent fire for its response to public health threats and communications missteps and admitted it fell short of expectations.

Yes, but: Its capabilities are often hindered, the director said, pointing to its hiring authorities as an example.

  • "I have people working on the front lines in Uganda working on Ebola. I can't provide them with hazard pay or overtime pay," she said. "Those are some of the authorities that other agencies enjoy."
  • She said travelers from Uganda are being funneled through five different airports. But the CDC doesn't have the authority to ask for final destination information to get follow-up data from those travelers.
  • "It's really difficult to run a public health response that way," she said.
Go deeper