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I would start by taking the various department heads in a room to get my point across: Professionalism and competence earn respect. At the beginning of the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic, 80% of people in the US trusted the CDC for information on the pandemic. It is now near 50% and falling. If the CDC is not trusted by the American people to provide advice on a pandemic, what is its purpose? (Aside from paying bureaucrats.)
The CDC must be a conservative organization. One of Conquest’s laws of politics is that any organization that is not explicitly conservative will become liberal over time, so the CDC must be conservative. What this means in practice is a presumption against restricting people’s freedom. People need to take risks and determine what is safe. We give them information so that they can make an informed decision. When we practice quarantine and lockdown measures, it should be treated like going to war or invoking martial law – never done lightly.
It also means following the constitution. We do not legislate, we advise the President and the American public. We are not a check on the President, we report to him. If you feel you are being pressured to do something wrong, come talk to me. If it is merited, I will take it up the chain of command to the President. If it truly a horrible scenario, I’ll resign and take it to the media. People put on a uniform and sacrifice their lives for our country. Sacrificing my salary is nothing compared to that.
The CDC also needs to focus on our mission. We exist to be our country’s experts on epidemiology and infectious disease control. That is the priority for funding and manpower. We should move NIOSH to the NIH, and avoid duplicating functions in other agencies. We should work with the State Department to arrange for foreign postings associated with embassies for health surveillance. Also, work with the Director of National Intelligence and National Security Council to establish a Pandemic Covert Surveillance group that has clearance to view intelligence data and provide expertise to the intelligence community. We should not rely on WHO or the health agencies of closed authoritarian societies to let us know what is actually happening. If we get bad data, we will give bad information to the President, and Americans might die needlessly.
The CDC needs to massively overhaul communications with the public. Always use understandable language, do not lie, and be willing to say if you are not sure. Only use technical terms if you define them. If we make a recommendation on limited data, make sure we qualify that. Also, make sure to speak to agencies that have an audience. If you can’t talk about a critical public health concern on Fox News or whatever program that is hostile to your beliefs, find another job – they pay your salary, not me. The point of agencies like us is to be trusted by people across the political spectrum, so we need to stick to the facts and remain professional.
We need to maintain scientific integrity to rebuild our reputation. If we change our recommendations, explain why. Be able to trace your findings to the scientific literature. Stay away from the various subjective social justice arguments. If we refuse to stick to biological facts and objective reality, people will stop caring what we say. For that reason, we will focus on physical sex as opposed to gender identification, since pathogens do not care about what we say or believe. Anyone who provides information to the public without a scientific basis will be disciplined – if it was to support your political biases, then put your resume in order. If gatherings are hazardous, then a peaceful march for your favorite cause is just as hazardous as a torch and pitchforks lynch mob. Pathogens do not care, so our recommendations should have no favoritism.
Reputations take ages to build, but can be lost in an instant. If we do our jobs right, people will benefit from our expertise, and live longer more productive lives. And that is what it is all about.
Now, go make this happen, and don’t forget to wash your hands.Published in