The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in general and director Dr. Thomas Frieden, in particular, have come under harsh criticism of late with their handling of Ebola in the US, and some would say abroad also.


Politicians, talk radio and cable news hosts have come down especially hard on the perceived ineptitude of the bureaucracy in dealing with Ebola. In fact, Fox News host, Bill O’Reilly nearly blew a gasket the other evening calling for the dismissal of Frieden.

The CDC has a budget of nearly $7 billion annually, up some 200% from 2000. Most Americans believe that the role of the CDC is in fact that, disease control and prevention, particularly infectious disease.

However, apparently the $7 billion is not enough and some people in the federal health agencies blame the current problems on that factor.

However, the agency really has their hands on just about everything–obesity, gun violence, motorcycle helmets, occupational safety and a plethora of other issues that stray further and further to their core function and mission-disease control and prevention.

On their website is listed their mission statement:

CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.

CDC increases the health security of our nation. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.

Not too bad.

When you look under “CDC’s Roles”on the site, the first one listed is “Detecting and responding to new and emerging health threats”.

Taking a look of the history of the CDC, we find the agency came into existence as  The Communicable Disease Center in 1946. Infectious disease surveillance, epidemiology, entomology, laboratories, and eventually 4 years later, the creation of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS).

The founder of the CDC, Dr. Joseph W. Mountin once said, “CDC was responsible for any communicable disease.”

Training “shoe-leather” epidemiologists and “disease detectives” was their hallmark.

Malaria, and typhus, once common in the southern US are no more, thanks to the CDC.

Polio, sexually transmitted infections (or VD back in the day), immunization, and the grand-daddy-the eradication of smallpox.

In 1962 it established a smallpox surveillance unit, and a year later tested a newly developed jet gun and vaccine in the Pacific island nation of Tonga. After refining vaccination techniques in Brazil, CDC began work in Central and West Africa in 1966. When millions of people there had been vaccinated, CDC used surveillance to speed the work along. The World Health Organization used this “eradication escalation” technique elsewhere with such success that global eradication of smallpox was achieved by 1977. The United States spent only $32 million on the project, about the cost of keeping smallpox at bay for 2-1/2 months.

In more recent decades we saw them tackle new, mysterious outbreaks- Legionnaires disease, toxic-shock syndrome and AIDS.

I’m just suggesting that just like a business that strays too far from the core product (s) often ends up in trouble either with product quality or innovation, maybe the CDC has their hands in too many places.

The $7 billion budget pie is being cut into too many slices.

Get back to your core competencies, that no one in the world is better at, and the country will be much better off.