Stop throwing money at CDC

Posted: Dec 05, 2001 12:00 AM
Dr. David Satcher, the nation's lame duck surgeon general, wants taxpayers to cough up more money for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This irrelevant bureaucrat's last-ditch money grab is one of the more distasteful examples of exploiting the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks for institutional gain. At a medical conference on bioterrorism in San Francisco this week, Satcher -- a Clinton-appointed holdover who leaves office in February -- blasted the CDC's research facilities as a national disgrace. He whined about an electricity blackout that left the Atlanta-based CDC labs without power during the early days of the anthrax attacks. The country, Satcher told the media, should be "ashamed of the condition of the laboratories." He then promoted a bipartisan proposal by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to boost the CDC coffers by $3.2 billion. Neither Congress nor the public should fall for Satcher's poorhouse rhetoric. The CDC's overall annual budget is nearly $4 billion -- and growing every year. Over the past decade, the agency has abandoned its primary focus on infectious diseases and instead splurged on kiddie condom ads, "anti-bullying" lessons, anti-smoking propaganda, gender inequity awareness, anti-gun junk science, public relations campaigns against politically incorrect "social" diseases (such as TV violence), and other Big Brother behavior modification programs that treat individual vices -- personal lifestyle choices -- as germs to be eradicated. Moreover, unlike most government agencies, the CDC has its own high-powered private benefactors pressing Congress for increased funding. The "Friends of CDC" is an Atlanta-based group of deep-pocketed corporations, including the Home Depot Inc., BellSouth Corp., Delta Air Lines Inc., and United Parcel Service Inc., which each pitched in $5,000 to form a lobbying group for the agency. That campaign helped secure more than $100 million more in federal funds this year for CDC building upgrades and repairs. Nevertheless, Satcher and public health officials continue to carp about the labs' crumbling infrastructure -- leaky roofs, termite-infested floors, broken air conditioners, overcrowded offices, and dilapidated refrigerators. Who's to blame? It's "the fault of the nation, not the fault of the CDC," Satcher complained. Perhaps Satcher has been too busy teaching kindergarteners about birth control to read the government's own reviews of how the CDC squanders public funds. A report issued earlier this year by the U.S. General Accounting Office and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP concluded that the CDC's financial management staff was largely "incompetent" and that its managers had "little or no accounting experience." The review was ordered after a whistleblower exposed how CDC essentially lied to Congress about where it spent federal funds set aside for chronic fatigue syndrome. About half of the $22.7 million appropriated for the vaguely-defined malady was spent on other research or could not be accounted for by the CDC. Shortly after apologizing for that fiasco, the CDC admitted "misdirecting" up to $7.5 million earmarked each year since 1993 for research on the deadly hantavirus. Some went to CDC officials studying a viral outbreak in Malaysia. The rest of the diverted funds, as one official confessed, were almost impossible to trace because of CDC bookkeeping practices. And soon after that, a congressional panel chaired by Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., expanded its probe of the CDC to examine the dubious handling of some $13 million in public funds to seek out 4 million people thought to be infected by hepatitis C. "There appears to be a diversion of funds and, on the surface, that seems to be a pattern at CDC," noted Pete Sheffield, a spokesman for Bliley. Congress should think twice before giving in to Dr. Satcher and his public health cronies begging for money under the guise of combating terrorism. Throwing more money at the blame-mongers, book-cookers and blind spenders at the CDC will only make the problem worse.