Kyle McGowan and Amanda Campbell, who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the Trump administration, have spoken out to The New York Times about serious problems at the public health agency including “Washington’s dismissal of science, the White House’s slow suffocation of the agency’s voice, the meddling in its messages and the siphoning of its budget,” as the Times summarizes.
"Every time that the science clashed with the messaging, messaging won": Two Trump appointees at CDC break their silence to describe political interference by the White House and HHS as the pandemic grew. @noahweiland https://t.co/i9kLTFcY0u
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) December 16, 2020
Among other examples, McGowan (who served as chief of staff at the agency) worked alongside CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield to hash out details of the agency’s guidance for restaurants with White House official Russel Vought, who insisted that recommending a six-foot distance between patrons “would be too onerous for businesses to enforce.” McGowan insisted to the Times that it “is not the C.D.C.’s role to determine the economic viability of a guidance document,” but Vought and other officials pushed non-scientific concerns onto the CDC’s work anyway. The CDC “compromised,” the Times summarizes, and recommended social distancing at restaurants without including the six-foot marker after Vought’s persistence.
In another example of the Trump administration’s meddling in scientific work, “political appointees at the health department repeatedly asked C.D.C. officials to revise, delay and even scuttle drafts” of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWRs) from the agency when these officials thought that the scientific reports “could be viewed, by implication, as criticism of President Trump.” McGowan and Campbell described meddling efforts from Trump’s political appointees including “edits from Mr. Vought and Kellyanne Conway… on choirs and communion in faith communities, or suggestions from Ivanka Trump… on schools,” the Times explains. None of these individuals have any apparent meaningful health care experience whatsoever, no matter their attempts to push their own edits on the agency’s work and reports.
Referring to the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier, who faced a cold shoulder from political appointees after a February warning to the public about COVID-19, McGowan observed as follows:
‘There’s not a single thing that she said that didn’t come true. Is it more important to have her telling the world and the American public what to be prepared for, or is it just to say, ‘All is well?’ It’s demoralizing to spend your entire career preparing for this moment, preparing for a pandemic like this. And then not be able to fully do your job. They need to be allowed to lead.’
Among other flashpoints of the undercuts to the CDC was the redirection of $300 million of the agency’s budget towards a vaccine public relations campaign. Recently, Dr. Charlotte Kent — who’s led editing for the MMWRs — told Congress that she once received an order to destroy an email that contained evidence of political meddling in the agency’s scientific work. Specifically, the email contained a rant from then-top Department of Health and Human Services adviser Dr. Paul Alexander, who delusionally claimed that the CDC’s work “is designed to hurt this [President] for their reasons which I am not interested in.” Alexander wanted an update on a CDC report about COVID-19 risks to children.
The Biden team has already clearly established their commitment to following the science in fighting COVID-19 and in dealing with potential other public health crises.