NUTLEY, NJ – FEBRUARY 28: A researcher works in a lab that is developing testing for the COVID-19 … [+]
With the stock market in correction, public health alerts, travel restrictions, and hot spot quarantines across the global, the coronavirus has certainly captured public attention.
Taxpayers are rightly wondering if the billions of dollars they send to Washington every year will help keep them and their families safe.
The U.S. agency primarily responsible is the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a sub-agency of U.S. Health and Human Services. Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found that the CDC invested heavily in acquiring and keeping talent. Headcounts and compensation are at all-time highs.
So, can this elite group of doctors and healthcare professionals safeguard the health of the nation?
In 2018, the agency employed 10,639 staffers who earned $1.1 billion. The average pay was $106,000 — with doctors earning up to $288,653. The statistics are compiled from the last year available with analysis by our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.
Let’s put the numbers in historical perspective.
- Number of staffers: A 28 percent increase in agency headcount since 2007. The gross number of CDC employees increased from 8,325 (FY2007) to 10,639 (2018). In 2013, the agency employed 10,213 staffers – which was a then-all-time high – who successfully helped slow the spread of Ebola.
- Compensation: A 51-percent increase in total compensation – salary, bonuses, differentials, awards – since 2007. In 2018, cash compensation amounted to $1.1 billion. In 2007, the total payout was $726 million.
- Highly compensated executives: There are 168 key employees at CDC who earn more than $200,000. These top employees made $38 million last year – an average of $226,000 each. The 35 top doctors and scientists made between $250,000 and $288,653 last year.
Could the agency do better? Absolutely. We found $6.5 million in frivolous positions: photo photographers ($153,000); woodcrafters ($313,000); interior designers ($387,387); architecture ($1.5 million); and public affairs officers ($4 million).
Sadly, the global spread of coronavirus has become a partisan political issue.
Recently, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blasted the administration’s response and asked for an additional $8.5 billion in funding. For comparison, we found this amount is equivalent to eight-times the agency’s total payroll cost ($1.1 billion), or twice the cost of two full years of domestic grant-making ($8.4 billion).
Congress will debate whether these additional funds will truly help the CDC meet the looming threat of the coronavirus or merely make politicians look determined and resolute.
Regardless, the debate about additional funds shouldn’t obscure the fact that the CDC already has a lot of resources. Whether or not the agency could even spend the money properly or efficiently is an important and open question.
Looking at CDC’s recent rate of spending is instructive.
During fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the CDC doled out $11 billion in total grants. Domestically, $8.4 billion was spent while $2.6 billion followed to other countries. The top recipients of CDC funding to other nations were South Africa ($437.3 million), Uganda ($400.4 million), Switzerland ($184.6 million), Zambia ($170.1 million), and Nigeria ($150.1 million).
The top programs funded by CDC grants during this period were global aids ($2.7 billion), hospital and health preparedness emergency programs ($1.6 billion), HIV prevention activities ($777.2 million) and immunization agreements ($693.1 million).
Here are three examples of where $2.8 million in grants funded small projects with little impact:
1. George State University Research Foundation received a $748,000 grant to study “addressing social determinants of health in the most diverse square mile in America.” What was learned? Clarkson is a stroller community and that public officials need to listen.
2. Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe received a $300,000 grant for “taking care of ourselves with traditional food and culture.” Most of the grant was seemingly directed by one researcher who wasn’t even a Native American.
3. Justice Research Institute (JRI) received a five-year grant of $1.75 million for its program called “hook up to health.” These funds will allow JRI – a self-described social justice organization – to provide affirming safe spaces, HIV/STD/STI testing, and safe-sex materials to “gay young men and transgender women of color.”
The American taxpayer has provided the CDC with a lot of resources. We expect the agency to perform at a high level — despite the daunting task at hand.
Taxpayers will soon see if we get our money’s worth.