Agency's health mission compromised by mismanagement; lavish spending
U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), a practicing physician, today released an oversight report on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an agency with a $10 billion annual budget and a crucial public health mission.
"Recent events have highlighted how critical CDC's mission is to the health of our nation. The American public, now more than ever, expects CDC to spend its funds preventing diseases and dealing with public safety threats, including the threat of bioterrorism. While CDC is meeting some of those expectations, it also wastes millions of dollars," said Dr. Coburn, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security (FFM).
In a detailed oversight report the first in a series that will examine the operations of federal agencies a U.S. Senate Subcommittee highlights how the CDC has wasted and continues to waste hundreds of millions of tax dollars, but keeps asking taxpayers for more.
In "CDC Off Center: A review of how an agency tasked with fighting and preventing disease has spent hundreds of millions of tax dollars for failed prevention efforts, international junkets, and lavish facilities, but cannot demonstrate it is controlling disease," the minority staff of the FFM subcommittee examines how CDC has tilted off center and makes recommendations about how it might get back on track.
Dr. Coburn noted, "Recently, it was reported that the CDC director told Congress the agency needs' an additional $1 billion in 2008 to do its job properly. The FFM oversight report shows the director where she might begin looking for those funds internally, before she asks taxpayers to open their wallets even wider.
"CDC employs many honest, hard-working people who shoulder a very important mission for our nation. Yet, like most agencies, it offers many examples of how an agency with a large budget can veer off track in prioritizing its funds."
A sample of what is included in this new oversight report:
* CDC spent $1.7 million including funds from a terrorism account on a Hollywood liaison program, which happens to be run by a former CDC employee (see page 87);
* CDC paid to create a statue of a woman made out of vegetables, "who" was featured in its $106 million new communications and visitor center (recently named after the senator in charge of funding CDC) (see page 11);
* The Thomas R. Harkin visitor center also includes a giant 70-foot-wide by 25-foot-tall video wall of plasma screen TVs to showcase vignettes about the agency. The plasma TVs are part of the building's $5.1 million "audio visual integration" expenditures (see page 8);
* CDC spent $30,000 on saunas for its new $200,000 fitness center, a center which also includes mood-enhancing lightshows and two $1,750 zero-gravity chairs (see page 15);
* CDC syphilis prevention funds were spent to host a "safe-sex" event with a porn star, during a time when rates of the disease among men climbed by 68 percent (see page 44);
* CDC HIV/AIDS prevention funds were spent on a transgender beauty pageant (see page 45);
* CDC spent $45 million for conferences, including those featuring prostitutes, protests, and beach parties (see pages 50, 52,53, & 55);
* CDC sent 110 employees to two international AIDS conferences (20 to Thailand and 90 to Barcelona), when purchasing retroviral drugs with the trip funds likely could have prevented mother-to-child AIDS transmission for more than 115,000 infants around the world (see pages 52 & 54);
* CDC is opening a Hawaii office, a development announced by a senator from Hawaii who oversees its funding (see page 18);
* CDC has spent $5 billion over seven years on HIV/AIDS prevention funding, and yet the United States still sees 40,000 new cases each year, with no decrease in infection rates for over a decade (see pages 23-31);
* The Inspector General finds that of CDC's $2.6 billion in HIV/AIDS grants, some have no objectives and are "abysmal," yet are funded anyway (see pages 38-40);
* CDC spent $335 million on a kid-targeted media campaign to fight obesity and found that, later, kids who saw the ads did one more activity, which may or may not have been the result of the ads (see pages 69-71);
* CDC pays two former employees $250,000 to (temporarily) help build staff morale, and the agency is currently seeking a full-time replacement who will cost taxpayers over $1 million in the next decade (see pages 100-101);
* A CDC HIV/AIDS prevention grantee hosted a bar night and printed magazine instructions on how to throw a good party with lots of alcohol, despite the fact that booze is a known risk-factor for spreading the deadly disease (see page 104); and
* $128,000 in CDC bioterrorism funds were spent by Los Angeles County (a high-target area) on trinkets such as letter openers, whistles, magnets, mouse pads, flashlights, pens, and travel toothbrushes (see pages 106-108).
Also included in the report is a graph showing CDC's yearly budget from 1995-2007, which has increased by more than 350 percent (see page 7) and a chart showing yearly CDC's HIV/AIDS funding from 2001-2007, which has more than doubled during that time (see page 115).
As part of his commitment to oversight of how Washington spends taxpayer dollars, Dr. Coburn plans to release a series of oversight reports on federal agencies. Dr. Coburn's hope is that better oversight will assist federal agencies, and those in Congress overseeing their budgets, in reigning in wasteful spending, in demanding measurable results from programs and grantees, and in reevaluating current spending before asking politicians and taxpayers to send more.
As the report notes:
"CDC Off Center' is not an effort to discredit the good work that the CDC and those who work for it have carried out and the good work that will continue in the future. The report will hopefully be seen for what it is: an effort to shine some light on prevention efforts and funding decisions that may be holding the agency back from fulfilling its central mission of fighting and controlling disease."
Dr. Coburn encourages anyone who has examples of government waste to submit the information to his Web site tip line.
Or by mail to his subcommittee office:
Senator Tom Coburn, M.D.
Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security
340 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Tipsters may remain anonymous.