As COVID-19 Approached, CDC Asked Congress for More Money To Fight the Drug War

Most of the items included in the CDC's 2021 budget request are important, serious matters. But many have nothing to do with the agency's mission.


Just two weeks after he'd tweeted that there was "no confirmed person-to-person spread" of the new coronavirus emerging from China, Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield submitted to Congress a 512-page budget request asking for more than $7 billion in taxpayer money.

That document shines some light on the CDC's decadeslong problem with mission creep,  which may have critically undermined the agency's ability to respond effectively to the pandemic.

Among other things, the CDC sought $100 million for its Drug Free Communities program and another $100 million for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a federal agency that has repeatedly been on the budgetary chopping block because even its defenders don't seem to know exactly what value it provides.

As part of that funding proposal, the CDC told Congress that it planned to build on previous successes like "expanded efforts to partner with public safety (e.g., law enforcement, first responders) by collaborating with the Office of National Drug Control Policy to fund 25 pilot projects" aimed at reducing opioid overdoses. Another CDC project claimed to target "the stigma associated with opioid use disorder within the Native American culture."

Opioid abuse is a serious public health problem, of course, but it's worth asking whether the CDC is the appropriate agency for addressing it. After all, the CDC's mission statement says it seeks to "prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to disease outbreaks at their source," not that it serves as a clearinghouse for government spending on public health.

The same questions can be asked of many other aspects of the CDC's most recent budget request. In touting its recent successes, for example, the CDC highlighted how it raised awareness about neonatal dental care by advertising in Times Square. The effort generated "more than 6 million impressions," according to the budget request document, but did it help stop an viral outbreak? Similarly, the CDC's development of "a web‐​based data visualization dashboard to explore 1.4 million workers' compensation claims in Ohio, creating a causation‐​specific injury surveillance system using existing claims databases" might have been useful in some ways, but it hardly seems to qualify as preventing or detecting deadly diseases.

"In general, less is more with federal agencies," writes Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institue. "Federal mission‐​sprawl often results in overlaps with state, local, and private activities, and it distracts federal leaders from their core responsibilities."

As I wrote earlier this week, the CDC's budget was roughly 14 times larger in 2019 than it was in 1987—even though overall government spending has increased only about 4.5 times in the same period. After looking through previous CDC budget requests, Edwards concludes that the agency's workforce has increased by 12 percent between 2010 and 2019.

Americans should be wondering if they are getting what they are paying for. The CDC fumbled the response to the coronavirus outbreak in several key ways—first by downplaying the seriousness of the disease, then by delaying the development of testing kits, and perhaps most crucially by developing tests that didn't work.

It's impossible to know if those mistakes could have been avoided if the agency had stuck to its original mission of combatting deadly diseases rather than straying into a wide field of public health issues, including everything from vaping to gun violence. If nothing else, trimming the CDC's budget would have kept it from duplicating similar research at the National Institutes of Health or elsewhere within the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Congress needs to go in and start directing where and how CDC can and cannot use its money," suggests Michelle Minton, a senior fellow at the free market Competitive Enterprise Institue, and the author of a recent report on the CDC's mission creep. "The CDC should be made to focus—since it is not going to do it on its own—on infectious and contagious diseases."

NEXT: The Breonna Taylor Shooting Shows How Reckless Drug War Tactics Lead to Senseless Deaths

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  1. >>"Congress needs to go in and start directing where and how CDC can and cannot use its money,"

    has Michelle Minton ever seen Congress?

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  2. The day they allowed the CDC to study anything outside of INFECTIOUS disease, the agency was lost.

    1. Ditch it. It's clearly be a liability during germ warfare for marbles.

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  3. "Congress needs to go in and start directing where and how CDC can and cannot use its money,"

    But I thought federal agencies were supposed to be independent of undue political influence? Congress' only responsibility is to drop off big bags of money at their door and otherwise leave them alone. If they want to to spend their money on blackjack, hookers and blow, well, I for one think we'd probably be better off.

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  4. Ya. The CDC's crusade for gun control and their manifestly bad analysis ( comes to mind.

  5. Fumble? They downplayed it because it wasn't worth the economic destruction that liberal governors demanded.

    Get your facts straight.

  6. Let 'em eat asset forfeiture, capital flight, liquidity panics, crash, contraction and another Great Depression! The prohibitionist Great Depression increased communist party membership 700%. Ending all licensing for medicine will help.

  7. Government has only ever been about a disguised, safer, and more effective way to steal, never about it's purported purposes. If anything, it has become a more callous or less disguised thief than America has previously suffered.

    Art of the Deal Co-Author Tony Schwartz: Trump Has No Conscience, 'The Deaths Don't Matter to Him'

    1. "Art of the Deal Co-Author Tony Schwartz: Trump Has No Conscience, ‘The Deaths Don’t Matter to Him’"

      Stuff your TDS up your ass so your head has some company.

  8. Not only the government but we also need the money to take care of our things. Working from home is the best solution in front of us and this is the only thing we can do to get money and survive.

  9. The COVID-19 Virus is rampant, and I hope that it will pass as soon as possible and that the sunny spring will come soon.
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  10. The CDC wants to reduce opioid overdoses? LOL.

    The CDC is directly responsible for massively driving up opioid deaths; not simply by supporting prohibition, but by direct fraud. When there was a problem with excessive and criminal prescribing practices, the CDC put out medically unfounded "guidelines" putting extreme restrictions on dosage and encouraging involuntary sharp tapers or cessation for completely stable, long-term patients.

    These guidelines were contrary to best medical practice, and the CDC traded on its credibility as a medical authority to impose guidelines entirely conceived and written by drug enforcement authorities, with no pain management expertise, from the DEA Office of Diversion Control.

    In addition to the extreme degree of suffering, in many cases leading to suicide, imposed on all pain patients now, this policy had the effect of causing vast numbers of people, both abuser and legit pain patient alike, to seek out alternatives from the black market, right as fentanyl and its analogs were starting to become increasingly prevalent-- causing the vast majority of opioid overdose deaths. This outcome was no surprise; it all played out exactly as drug policy experts predicted.

    The CDC had advanced notice their medically unsound policy would cause hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths, and untold amounts of suffering, and they chose to do it anyway. All those overdoses and suicides from untreated pain, all because in a conflict between minimizing harm and making way for the harm maximization efforts of the DEA, the CDC forsook its mission to serve the latter.

  11. The mission of the CDC, like most government agencies is to condition the citizens to accept ever increasing intrusion of the federal government.
    Anything to do with actual infectious diseases might get a government worker sick, and is not worth the risk.

  12. Very happy to see this criticism of the CDC which is sorely lacking from corporate media and it's obsession on partisanship.

    The problem with the government's virus response goes far beyond the White House and Dems and Repubs. Head must roll at the CDC if we are to be a competent, rational, merit-based society. This sort of utter failure to perform core duties would be met by a purge of the entire executive team in the private sector.

    Just as not a single fraudulent banker was prosecuted after the 2008 financial ripoff ("crisis"), no one in American society is going to be held accountable for the failings this time. Great job Brownie! Welcome to 1980's East Germany

  13. Here is how you see how f'ed up the CDC is. What is the % of employees who are not physical/biological scientists (PhD or even MD) versus "soft" portions? I would bet there has been a huge growth of "left wing liberal art" graduates compared to 1990. Libs infect every govt agency...pushing political agendas (drug wars, anti gun and all that sh%t CDC was pushing during Obama.

    1. The CDC's original mission employed mostly entomologists and civil engineers. Not sure they even had a doc on the payroll.

  14. This isn't just the CDC. Look at any Government agency. The objective is to get funding. With funding you increase the size of the staff. Increasing the size of the staff has two results. One is the promotion of the administrators because their rate is based on the number of people in their departments. The second is to increase the number of dues paying public sector employees, because part of those dues goes to campaign contributions and PACs that help Democrats get re-elected.

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