Coronavirus

Mission Creep and Wasteful Spending Left the CDC Unprepared for an Actual Public Health Crisis

Spending nearly 14 times as much on the CDC as we did in 1987 did not, apparently, help the agency combat the biggest disease threat America has faced in a century.

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Over the past three decades, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has seen its taxpayer-funded budget doubled. Then doubled again. Then doubled again. And then nearly doubled once more.

But spending nearly 14 times as much as we did in 1987 on the agency whose mission statement says it "saves lives and protects people from health threats" did not, apparently, help the CDC combat the emergence of the biggest disease threat America has faced in a century. In fact, a new report argues, inflating the CDC's budget may have weakened the agency's ability to handle its core responsibility by giving rise to mission creep and bureaucratic malaise.

"The CDC devolved into an agency incapable of adequately addressing the serious threat posed by infectious disease, particularly novel diseases for which there is little information about risk, spread, and treatment," says Michelle Minton, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank.

Minton is the author of a newly released study showing just how far the CDC has strayed from its core mission. In addition to combating dangerous infectious diseases like HIV and malaria, the CDC now also studies alcohol and tobacco use, athletic injuries, traffic accidents, and gun violence. While those things can indeed be important factors to public health, Minton notes, they don't seem to fall within the agency's original mission.

They do, however, explain why the CDC's budget has ballooned from $590 million in 1987 to more than $8 billion last year. If the agency had grown with inflation since 1987, it would have a budget of about $1.3 billion today. Total federal spending, meanwhile, has grown from a hair over $1 trillion in 1987 to $4.4 trillion last year—which means that the CDC's budget has grown faster the government's overall spending.

Has all that extra funding made America safer? In 2019, the CDC spent $1.1 billion on its National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, which focuses on ailments like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The CEI report notes that there are at least 10 other federally funded agencies—mostly within the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—engaged in similar health and wellness research.

Instead of spending billions of dollars in recent years to duplicate work being done by other federal agencies, hindsight now suggests that the CDC should have spent more time and money researching emergent influenza-like infectious diseases, a project that received just $185 million in funding last year. This is a failure of priority-setting by both the CDC and Congress, which ultimately controls the purse strings.

Instead, the CDC was doing things like spending $1.75 million on the creation of a "Hollywood liaison" whose job was to help movies and TV shows write more accurate storylines about infectious diseases. A 2007 report published by the office of late Sen. Tom Coburn (R–Okla.) found that the CDC funded the position with money originally earmarked for combating bioterrorism and appointed a semi-retired employee to run the office. The same report calls out the CDC for lavish spending on a new headquarters and visitor center that opened in 2006. The agency blew through more than $10 million in new office furniture and built a $200,000 fitness center and $30,000 sauna on site.

It would be one thing if the CDC was merely wasting money on saunas and duplicative research, but the agency has also been pushing agendas that were counterproductive to public health. In the months before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the CDC was on the front lines of a "war on vaping" that came in response to a brief panic over deaths caused by black market THC vape pens.

"Even though it was clear early on that vaping-related lung injuries overwhelmingly involved black-market cannabis products, the CDC repeatedly intimated that legal, nicotine-delivering e-cigarettes might kill you," Reason's Jacob Sullum reported in March. "That message endangered public health by implying that people—teenagers as well as adults—would be better off smoking, which is demonstrably not true."

The nonsensical war on vaping may have tarnished the CDC's credibility on the eve of a crisis that would require the public to trust policymakers. And when the coronavirus did hit, the CDC only confirmed that it should not be trusted to make important decisions by forbidding private labs from developing tests for COVID-19. The federal agency's monopoly on testing supplies produced inaccurate tests that had to be discarded en masse.

The initial testing delay has certainly cost lives. It is also at least partially to blame for the severe quarantine policies that have tipped the American economy into a deep recession—without adequate testing, there was little else for policymakers to do except close the country in the hopes of slowing the disease's spread.

The CDC should have done better, given the resources allocated to it during the past few decades. That those resources were squandered is a matter of life and death for many Americans, and the people responsible should be held to account.

And, no, the CDC's budget was not cut by the Trump administration—as the agency's defenders have claimed. Although Trump did call for budget cuts to the CDC in each of his proposed budgets since taking office, Congress never approved those proposals.

Indeed, Congress has been stuffing more money down the CDC's throat on an almost annual basis for the past three decades—with little to show for it when the need truly arose.

NEXT: Stanford Prof. Michael McConnell on "Who Is a 'Minister'?"

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  1. to the surprise of noone. Take any agency’s stated goal and reverse it to get a firm understanding of what it actually does.

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  2. //[T]he emergence of the biggest disease threat America has faced in a century.//

    I’m just saying it’s hard to continue reading when an article starts off peddling complete bullshit …

    1. We should probably consider ourselves lucky that COVID turned out to be a flop, since if it was anywhere near as dangerous as the government said it was we would all be dead with the CDC’s performance at their central mission that justifies their existence.

      If they are that bad at their one actual job, the odd’s they do anything well is unlikely.

      I will admit, in at least a little fairness, that missions like that of the CDC are essentially something you’d probably only need once every few decades, at most. Since they are a permanent agency, that leaves them several decades to find meaningless shit to push around their desk to pretend they’re working, and when ‘disaster’ strikes they will almost certainly be unprepared for the sudden ‘real work’ situation.

      1. No. And here’s why:

        It has been known among virologists for almost two decades that enshrouded-RNA viruses (influenza, SARS, MERS, CoV-19, among others) are mildly sensitive to temperature, moderately sensitive to humidity, and quite sensitive to UV. One Mayo Clinic study showed that raising the humidity in schools to 50% reduced influenza by a factor of 3 (just humidity in the schools, not the play-areas, or anywhere else); other studies show similar factor-of-two to factor-of-three reductions for a variety of enshrouded-RNA viruses.

        This has been well-established for more than a decade. If the CDC were doing its job and had recommended that public-building humidity be maintained at 50%, then tens of thousands of people per year might not have died of influenza. If this had been in effect, it should have reduced CoV-19 transmission by a factor of two or more — enough that we would not have had a rapidly-growing pandemic: at worst, slowly growing, at best rapidly-decaying.

        No: their actions show that they are much more interested in their bureaucratic red-tape power-games and in sponsoring “fashionable” high-tech research than in the job they are supposed to do.

      2. that missions like that of the CDC are essentially something you’d probably only need once every few decades, at most. Since they are a permanent agency, that leaves them several decades to find meaningless shit to push around their desk to pretend they’re working, and when ‘disaster’ strikes they will almost certainly be unprepared for the sudden ‘real work’ situation.

        And that is precisely why DeRps are corrupt. Yes epidemics are only an occasional surge/emergency thing. Like earthquakes, wars, asteroid impacts, solar EMP’s, hurricane/blizzards, etc. Rent-seeking and parasitic behavior is OTOH highly continuous.

        DeRp’s have completely devolved into supporting the latter. The last pol who understood that problem was Eisenhower (a very pre-WW2 person looking at the post-WW2 world) with his farewell address. The last ‘analyst’ type afaik who seemed to understand it was Jeane Kirkpatrick in an ignored essay from 30 years ago. So there are now few Americans under the age of 90 or so who get the difference – and they’ve now been on the public tit so long they don’t get it either.

        1. Ah, yes, the “public tit”.

          If only the rich were paying their fair share of taxes maybe things would be better, right J?

          Haha.

      3. BYODB
        “We should probably consider ourselves lucky that COVID turned out to be a flop, since if it was anywhere near as dangerous as the government said it was we would all be dead with the CDC’s performance at their central mission that justifies their existence.”

        AMEN!!!

    2. Actually an extraordinarily accurate statement IF you include beneath the banner of “biggest disease threat” what we have done in response to that perceived threat.

      True….it is not the disease, per se, which has decimated us….rather it is our horribly wrong-headed, cowardly, and incredibly destructive decision to armageddon our economic, social, and political infrastructures. But yes, what we are now wrestling is by far the biggest threat we’ve faced in more than a century.

      We have met the enemy and he is us!

    3. Economic threat for certain. Disease threat not so much.

  3. Sounds like we should quadruple their budget. As with other agencies and government programs, if we just throw more (absurdly large sums of) money at a problem, the government will have it solved in no time. We can also rest assured that none of the money will be wasted.

    1. It’s worked for public schools. We’ve more than doubled the average per pupil spending adjusted for inflation in the last few decades and our schools have improved by every metric!*

      *Actual metrics show the exact opposite.

      1. Then we need new metrics, obviously.

        1. I know that some metrics of student success have actually been designed to include “dollars per student” as part of the formula. Even if the students are utterly failing standardized tests, the metrics get buoyed up by creating more $800K/year administrative positions.

        2. Sadly, we can’t get new metrics, because we are stuck with the antiquated English system. And many Americans don’t understand it. I mentioned to a cop once that, at 60MPH, you travel 88 feet per second. He said, “Yeah, approximately”. I told him it was exact, and simple math. I then found that he had no idea how many feet are in a mile. I’ve asked people that in conversation over the last 30 years, and at least a third of them had no idea. We need to go metric so we can save the children’s minds.

          1. Nah. Metric won’t make any difference. What you’re describing is not a struggle to remember the strange numerics of the English measurement systems…rather it is a struggle to handle basic arithmetic.

            No one, anymore, does arithmetic.

            Put a fool in a metric world or not….he’s still a fool, incapable of calculating even the simplest of what used to be called ‘story problems’. Even if you had told the individual that there are 5280 feet in a mile , he still would have been unable to arrive at the 88.

            Welcome to the Idiocracy!
            (At least we still have Brawndo…it’s got what plants crave!)

    2. The fact that Donald J. Trump is cutting funding for the CDC, and fired the government’s anti-Pandemic team 2 years ago, not to mention Donald Trump’s criminally irresponsible too-little-too-late response to the Pandemic, instead of responding in mid to late January when it still could’ve been contained also contributed greatly to this mess, making it a hell of a lot worse than it would’ve been.

      1. Haha. Yes, if only they had more money!

        JFC, did you even read the article?

      2. Yeah, too bad they didn’t have more millions so they could respond more effectively to fucking nothing.

      3. Ah, you joker you! For a second I thought you believed what you wrote!

    3. Yeah, well, if it wasn’t for those fucking tax cuts for the rich………..

      Haha

  4. Good article! I remember when they started this nonsense back in the 90s adding gun violence to their mission. So much of what they do now has nothing to do with communicable disease control and more about padding their payrolls and increasing their budget. The pattern is clear, when dems run the White House expand, when republicans are in charge, maintain until the dems get back in. And if an outbreak happens in the meantime blame slow response on the boss, not on the fact you are spending a big portion of your budget on things that have nothing to do with disease control.

    1. Gun violence is a criminological problem, of the MOM model where people with Motive and intent exploit Opportunities and utilize Means to achieve a criminally violent end.

      It simply does not fit the germ theory of disease, it is not a medical problem. The gun violence clique at CDC were out of their field.

  5. This article can’t be right. The CDC’s own website has this
    Pledge to the American People
    Be a diligent steward of the funds entrusted to our agency
    Provide an environment for intellectual and personal growth and integrity
    Base all public health decisions on the highest quality scientific data that is derived openly and objectively
    Place the benefits to society above the benefits to our institution
    Treat all persons with dignity, honesty, and respect

    1. So zero out of five?

  6. “Hollywood liaison” whose job was to help movies and TV shows write more accurate storylines about infectious diseases.

    Ew, “Hollywood Liaison” definitely sounds like an expert on spreading infectious diseases. I’ll give them that.

    1. One imagines the storyline about COVID-19 would be rejected out of hand.

      1. We’ll find out, since once Hollyweird gets out of lockdown you can bet your ass they all have some COVID scripts ready to run.

        This is a 100% guarantee. All scripts for broadcast TV are heavily influenced by the big ‘news’ stories. It makes for good propaganda and allows you to influence memories of those events.

        RE: Was that something Tina Fey said, or Sara Palin? Plenty don’t know the difference at all.

        Not sure if the propaganda angle is intentional, or just lazy screen writing full of personal bias. Personally I’d bet on the second option any day of the week since writers are, as a general rule, hacks.

  7. What would happen to the guy who failed over and over again to order rolls of paper to print today’s New York Times? Yet someone at CDC failed — for 10 years — to restock PPE used in 2009. But of course that’s solely Trump’s fault.

    1. I think a Medal of Freedom would be an appropriate award for such such a person.

    2. True. But you’ve already skipped a level.

      We should begin by asking how — in God’s name — it was possible for HOSPITALS, those organizations directly responsible for the care and treatment of our most injured and ill to exhaust all of THEIR PPEequipment within DAYS of an infectious emergency.

      Did it not occur to any Administrator….any individual in charge of critical hospital inventory levels….that maybe just maybe they should have on-hand (or in nearby warehouses) the stuff they need to treat sick people? (as in, maybe, a month’s worth or more). Did it not occur to any hospital consortium that — as a group — they should maintain multiple months worth of critical care material?

      Yes, absolutely, the CDC failed. As did Homeland Security (who also had a horse in this race)…as did every Municipality….as did the FDA. But the first and most critical failure sits at the doorstep of the institutions within which this battle is actually fought.

      1. Hospital chains just like everyone else in America have gone to just in time ordering.
        This has completely destroyed the hospital supply chain.
        You may not be aware of this, but America for the past five years or so has been suffering rotating shortages of various items including I.v. medicines, Syringes, and even bags of saline.
        Our hospital system, with 5 hospitals, has no warehouse filled with 2 weeks of syringes. Much less any other items.
        Many items are on “back order” for weeks before they arrive in the operating room.

  8. This is a perfect example of what we’re up against. If they fail miserably, it just shows that they were underfunded and need more money to expand. If they can be seen as having any semblance of success, it shows that they they need more money to expand. It’s like that for every single government department for every single issue.

    1. Yes-a few years ago I can remember some catastrophic industrial accident and the response from OSHA was “we’re underfunded and can’t be expected to be on top of things like this unless we get more money”. Government is the place where we are expected to reward failure.

      1. It also shows that they have zero incentive to actually SOLVE problems. If all problems are perpetual, they can always justify lifetime appointments with forever pensions and Cadillac healthcare for bureaucrats.

        1. If you solve the problem, the reason for your existence and justifications for funding vanish. That simply can not be allowed.

          1. Apollo taught NASA that. That’s why SLS goes on spending money year after year and like true communism, is always just 5 years away from “success”.

        2. Our President, Donald J. Trump, has zero incentive to actually solve problems! THAT’S the trouble!

    2. And that Trump “undermined” them.

      ‘We sucked because Trump wouldn’t listen to us!’

      I bet what happened was Trump realized they’re a bunch of fucktards and figured he wing it better than they could manage the virus.

  9. So… it wasnt tariffs that caused all of the deaths?

  10. Polio says you’re fucking stupid Boehm.

  11. >>disease threat

    liberty threat.

  12. Sounds like we need a Department of Mission Creep and Wasteful Spending.

    Or, as I’ve said a million times: Leave Bad Enough Alone.

  13. “…the biggest disease threat America has faced in a century.”

    Cite missing, as is any real skepticism regarding the numbers.
    Given that >27K deaths are recorded in one municipal area out of >87K nationwide, one would be forgiven for taking those numbers at face value.

    1. …one would be forgiven for *NOT* taking those numbers at face value.

  14. “[T]he emergence of the biggest disease threat America has faced in a century.”

    But enough about Democrats and progressives….

    1. Are you terrified of us you poor little Canadian?

      1. Totes.

        You guys are worse than Da Woohan.

  15. “the CDC was doing things like spending $1.75 million on the creation of a “Hollywood liaison” whose job was to help movies and TV shows write more accurate storylines about infectious diseases.”

    Movies make big impressions and informed people make better decisions more or less.

    1. Haha your dumb ass thinks people learn important information about communicable diseases from movies.

  16. Not ANOTHER god damn article on the revelations stemming from all the information released on the Obamagate scandal!? Do you guys ever give up?

    1. They all voted for Billary. They is sad.

  17. Well when your well-funded and previously well-run government agency is taken over by a retarded shitgibbon who appoints nothing but cronies and grifters to run the show, no amount of money will solve the problems. If you have to guess who I am talking about, I’ll give you a hint: He’s the guy Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch defended against worries of epic mismanagement using the phrase, “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Inject bleach, assholes.

    1. This is why I value the commentariat on this otherwise suck-ass site: “Retarded shitgibbon.” I’m sorry, but that’s just funny.

  18. If I were on Trump’s campaign staff, I’d make absolutely sure this was one of the themes. “You sent me to Washington to drain the regulatory swamp. We’ve made a start, but the Democrats have fought us at every turn. Now the swamp has shown us that it doesn’t just cost Americans time and money. It can cost them their lives. Send me back to Washington with a Republican majority to continue the fight.”

    Whatever your opinion of Trump, I think that done right, with end-runs around the leftist media to keep these things in the public view, it would resonate.

    1. Draining the “regulatory swamp” is what got us into this mess in the first place.

      1. Did you read the article at all? You know, the part about the CDC preventing companies from developing tests, etc.?

      2. Really? How so? Which recently eliminated regulation “got us into this mess”?

  19. And people want government in charge of all healthcare? Particularly when you just know that somewhere in that 100,000 pages of cluster fuck law, the CDC is in charge of something.

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  21. What????
    “May have”????
    “A new report argues, inflating the CDC’s budget MAY HAVE weakened the agency’s ability to handle its core responsibility.”

    My God, people, let us call a spade a spade.
    The CDC is an abysmal failure. They totally and absolutely abandoned their one and only mission priority. They not proved themselves incapable of doing the one thing we give them $12B annually to do….they turned around and spent that $12B on horseshit (and maybe a fair amount of bullshit, too).

    They failed utterly to anticipate, track, plan, prepare, and implement any kind of effective national response to WuhanV. They failed utterly to shield our Nation from the tidal wave of crap which has been drowning us for the last 2 months.

    Instead they did….what exactly?

    A casual search of their website gives us thousands of entries clustered beneath the Progressive Social Justice Banner…. Diversity, Inclusivity, Homosexuality, Racism, etc. The good news, I suppose, is that the same kind of casual search does give thousands of additional entries under “Virus”. And perhaps… if, indeed, the CDC had performed their singular mission….if they had succeeded in protecting us from what now afflicts us…perhaps we’d look at that kind of mission split and say, “I guess it’s working.”

    But that isn’t what happened.

    Instead we discover that we’ve paid $12B to hire a ‘plumber’ to keep our house safe from plumbing disasters….and two months later, found a flooded house and the plumber busy teaching our children about gender pronouns.

    Perhaps….whaddya think….we’d fire his ass?!

    How can we do any less today?
    The CDC should be gutted…and the standing disease-control and prevention mission tattooed on the foreheads of those who remain. How can we do any less?

    1. Not so fast, there BD!

      Gender pronouns are important. The plumber just needs more money.

      1. You’re right! What was I thinking? More money pretty solves everything! (My pronouns are Zhe, Zhim, and Zhucking Crazy!)

  22. Excellent article Jacob. The CDC is a failed agency and is in need of comprehensive reform. How many people are working on anti gun and vaping vs actual diseases?

    1. I meant Eric….

  23. “The initial testing delay has certainly cost lives.” No, it fucking hasn’t. There’s no “Kungflu treatment” that swings into high when you test positive. They treat the symptoms with supportive care just like they do with any other virus. Whether they identify what you have as Chinese Lung AIDS or H1N1 or the common cold, they treat symptoms, because there’s no cure for the virus. And when you’re talking about a disease that 99.8% of people survive, that up to 80% who get don’t even know they have because it doesn’t actually make people sick, and when 99% of those who do die are elderly with pre-existing conditions, there’s No. Health. Crisis. There never was. Stop acting like this is some kind of alien space plague that mows down men, women, and children alike. Reach down, use both hands, and see if you can’t find your fucking balls.

  24. thanks for sharing the information

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