Eshoo, Pallone, DeGette Urge HHS Inspector General to Investigate Political Interference at CDC

September 24, 2020
Press Release
Request Follows Series of Alarming Reports Suggesting Repeated Attempts to Politically Interfere with Nation’s Top Public Health Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) today requested the independent Office of Inspector General (OIG) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) investigate potential political interference by the White House and Trump Administration political appointees into the scientific work of employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“CDC is the nation’s premier public health agency. Yet, the appearance of political interference in the agency’s scientific work has led to at best mixed messages, and at worse the loss of public trust in the agency’s public guidance,” Eshoo, Pallone, and DeGette wrote. “The Committee has repeatedly raised alarm over the sidelining of CDC, its public health experts, and the politicization of science in the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 response in hearings and in letters to Secretary Azar since June. Neither Secretary Azar nor Director Redfield has taken substantive action to depoliticize the COVID-19 response efforts.”

The Committee leaders’ request for an investigation follows a series of troubling reports over just the last month that heighten concern of political interference with CDC policies and public guidelines, including:

  • On August 24, CDC quietly modified its coronavirus testing guidelines to say that people who have been in close contact with an infected individual “do not necessarily need a test” if they do not have symptoms and only reversed the guidance following an outcry from public health experts nationwide.
     
  • On September 2, CDC notified public health officials across the country to prepare to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by November 1, raising concerns that vaccine approval and distribution is being driven by political consideration for the presidential election rather than scientific data.
     
  • On September 10, it was reported that key Trump Administration political appointees allegedly demanded to review and sought to make changes to CDC’s scientific publication, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR).
     
  • On September 16, following Director Redfield’s comments before Congress that a COVID-19 vaccine for the general public would not come until mid-2021 and that masks may be more effective than a vaccine for certain individuals, the President used his press conference to declare that Redfield’s remarks were a “mistake” and that “this is incorrect information.”
     
  • On September 18, CDC posted online guidance that said airborne transmission was thought to be the main way the virus spreads. On September 21, the guidance was removed from the CDC site.
     
  • On September 22, it was reported that the office of Director Redfield directed an April 2020 memorandum detailing safety recommendations for a meat processing plant during COVID-19 be modified to suggest that the guidance outlined in the memorandum was only “if feasible” or “if possible” and noting that certain measures were only “recommended.”

“To that end, we are calling for a full and thorough investigation of these reported events to determine whether and to what extent the White House, or its political appointees, have interfered with or politicized the scientific work of CDC during the COVID-19 response,” the Committee Chairs continued.

As part of their inquiry, the Energy and Commerce leaders requested OIG examine specific questions, including:

  • Have any CDC career personnel raised concerns about interference from government officials outside CDC undermining CDC’s mission or its public health response to COVID-19?
     
  • Have White House personnel, including any political appointees, rejected, revised, discontinued, or dictated CDC COVID-19-related public health guidance, scientific publications, or data reporting platform, including MMWRs, testing guidelines, school or employer reopening guidelines, and hospital capacity reporting system?

To read the full letter, click HERE.

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