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Feature Competing Interests

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: protecting the private good?

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 15 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2362

Rapid Response:

Re: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: protecting the private good?

This report about the CDC receipt of money from for-profit entities that stand to gain from CDC decisions is consistent with how it stiffs ordinary citizens who ask uncomfortable questions. Had I contributed to the CDC coffers, perhaps I might have received different treatment than I did when I asked via registered mail with return receipt requested for the anonymized data underlying a published report on anthrax vaccine safety coauthored by CDC staff members, Drs. Brock Stewart and Michael O'Neil with copy to CDC Director, Dr. Thomas Frieden ( “Health-related quality of life in the Anthrax Vaccination Program for workers in the Laboratory Response Network,” Vaccine 30 (10), 27 February 2012: 1841-1846). The return receipt for my correspondence (USPS #0003 6395 3982) was signed by Stephen Grenleski on March 16, 2012. I never received the courtesy of a reply.

The CDC has an explicit policy statement that promises data sharing, subject to certain stipulations. I conclude that the CDC is either oblivious to or considers itself immune from the need for transparency and accountability. CDC intransigence signals to everybody else that they will not be held accountable for failure to provide evidence by which independent scholars can judge the reliability and validity of their published reports.

After CDC's egregiously flawed handling of the ebola crisis and confession of a pattern of safety lapses in mishandling anthrax, other pathogens (, who needs the CDC? Big savings could be had by cutting its budget. Unfortunately, the mantle of "national security" keeps it safe despite a track record of incompetence.

Ms. Lenzer's inquiry at least received a reply--albeit a typical public relations communique sent via email to the BMJ rather than to her directly. As reported by Ms. Lenzer, "He (Dr. Frieden) told The BMJ by email, 'Public-private partnerships allow CDC to do more, faster. The agency’s core values of accountability, respect, and integrity guide the way CDC spends the funds entrusted to it.'" Yeah. Dr. Frieden's way of responding to hard questions bespeaks arrogant disrespect rather than claimed "accountability, respect, and integrity."

I wonder if the time has come for creating a non-governmental national registry to contain reports of failed performance by government agencies like the CDC. Complaints that name names are needed to remove the anonymity that gives incentive for repeated misfeasance by political appointees and civil servants.

Competing interests: No competing interests

18 May 2015
John H Noble Jr
Emeritus Professor
508 Rio Grande Loop