NEW YORK (AP) — Georgia's health commissioner was named Friday to lead the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal government's top public health agency.
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald is an OB-GYN and has been head of the Georgia Department of Public Health since 2011. She succeeds Dr. Tom Frieden, who resigned as CDC director in January at the end of the Obama administration.
"I am humbled by the challenges that lie ahead, yet I am confident that the successes we've had in Georgia will provide me with a foundation for guiding the work of the CDC," Fitzgerald said in a statement.
Fitzgerald was appointed by Dr. Tom Price, who was a Republican congressman from Georgia before he was selected by President Donald Trump to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC.
"Having known Dr. Fitzgerald for many years, I know that she has a deep appreciation and understanding of medicine, public health, policy and leadership — all qualities that will prove vital as she leads the CDC in its work to protect America's health 24/7," Price said in a news release.
The 70-year-old Fitzgerald has had strong ties to the Republican Party. She was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress twice in the 1990s. She was also a health care policy adviser to Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, and the late Sen. Paul Coverdell.
Fitzgerald is respected in the public health community, and her choice drew approval from Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
"From her work as a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist to her recent service as the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, Dr. Fitzgerald is more than prepared to face the health challenges of our time, including climate change, Zika, Ebola, and our growing burden of chronic disease," Benjamin said in a statement.
The Atlanta-based CDC , with a budget of about $12 billion, investigates disease outbreaks, researches the cause and frequency of health problems and promotes prevention efforts. It is the only federal agency headquartered outside of Washington, D.C., and has nearly 12,000 employees and 10,000 contractors worldwide.
Fitzgerald has a bachelor of science degree in microbiology from Georgia State University and a medical degree from the Emory University School of Medicine. Her resume also includes being a major in the U.S. Air Force.
During her time as Georgia's health commissioner, she won praise for campaigns against childhood obesity and to encourage language development in babies. She also led response efforts during the Ebola and Zika virus scares.
Her first day at CDC was Friday. A CDC spokeswoman said Fitzgerald was not available for interviews.
Former director Frieden wished her well, and noted she'll be plunged into a continuing struggle to stop reductions in the CDC's budget and to fill hundreds of jobs that have been vacant. Trump's budget proposal would cut $1.2 billion from the CDC and legislation to repeal and replace the Obama-era health care law would cut other funding.
"By listening to and supporting CDC staff, she can succeed," he said via email.