The head of the federal government's public health agency is out, according to an e-mail sent Friday night to federal employees.
Dr. Julie Gerberding has resigned as director of the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will be replaced as of Jan. 20 by a deputy who will serve as interim director.
Gerberding is leaving at the request of President-elect Barack Obama, according to a statement from CDC spokesman Glen Nowak, reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.
“As part of the transition process, the administration requested resignation letters from a number of senior-level officials, including Dr. Julie Gerberding. This week, the administration accepted Dr. Gerberding’s resignation, effective January 20. As Dr. Gerberding noted in a November email to CDCleadership, she has always expected that she would be leaving after the administration changes,” the written statement said.
Gerberding and her replacement, the CDC's chief operating officer, Bill Gimson, were traveling in Africa and unavailable for comment, Nowak indicated.
The news of Gerberding's departure was disclosed in an e-mail sent Friday night to employees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which the CDC is part of.
Appointed in 2002, Gerberding was the first woman to lead the CDC, which investigates disease outbreaks, researches the cause and prevalence of health problems, and promotes illness prevention efforts. The agency has 9,000 government employees and about 5,000 contract workers.
Gerberding’s six years leading one of the nation’s most trusted institutions were marked by numerous controversies, from allegations that she allowed politics to interfere with science to concerns that her strategic decisions incapacitated the agency’s ability to respond in a public health crisis, the Atlanta paper reported.
Gerberding consistently argued that the changes she made allowed the agency to do its job better in a post-9/11 world.
But critics included employees who sharply opposed a massive reorganization in 2003 of the nation's key public health agency, saying she plunged the organization into chaos and spurred resignations by key staff.
And last year, an investigation concluded the CDC failed “in almost every respect” to protect Hurricane Katrina’s victims from dangerous formaldehyde fumes in government-provided trailers.
Speculation has run high in recent weeks about whether Gerberding would keep her post.
"The transition team needs to be briefed on this paralysis at CDC so that changes can be made," read one post on www.cdcchatter.net, an unofficial employee blog.