CSIS Report Outlines Recommendations to Strengthen CDC’s Epidemic Preparedness and Response Capabilities

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has released a landmark report detailing recommendations to strengthen the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s performance in responding to and mitigating disease outbreaks. Asaf Bitton, MD, MPH, Executive Director of Ariadne Labs, is a signatory on the report and served on the bipartisan working group that developed the recommendations. 

“The effectiveness of the CDC is a matter of great importance to all Americans,” Bitton said. “At a moment of significant challenge for the CDC and public health in general, this bipartisan report offers concrete and actionable recommendations for how to strengthen the CDC’s core capacities to protect US and global health, and improve data flow, partnerships, and operations around these key priorities.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to unfold, the CDC has seen a significant decline in public trust and has drawn criticism for its performance in preventing and responding to outbreaks. Without a strong, effective, and accountable national public health agency, the U.S. remains vulnerable to global health threats. 

In August 2022, the CSIS formed a bipartisan working group, chaired by J. Stephen Morrison and Tom Inglesby, and including three former heads of the CDC, six members of Congress, and public health experts, to review the CDC’s capacity for epidemic preparedness and response. The group identified a series of chronic challenges that must be systematically addressed to restore the CDC to a strong national public health asset. 

The report details concrete, near-term steps that can be taken to restore the CDC to a high level of performance. The authors outline eight key recommendations:

  • Clarify and reaffirm CDC’s core mission.
  • Strengthen and fully integrate CDC’s global mission.
  • Launch a high-level executive-congressional dialogue on CDC’s future, implementing immediate reforms and consolidating long-term plans.
  • Reform the guidance development process.
  • Upgrade CDC’s federal engagement through an expanded leadership presence in the federal interagency policymaking process and through intensified communications and engagement with Congress.
  • Strengthen partnerships that create greater coherence and predictability, quickly move CDC far closer to the front lines, and improve the agency’s service to all Americans.
  • Change the career incentive system to reward operational excellence, experience, and speed.
  • Improve the speed and quality of data collection and reporting, particularly during a crisis.

The U.S. needs a high-performing CDC that can meet the demands of new epidemics and pandemics and lead a response that mitigates illness and mortality. Without such an agency, the nation risks unnecessary suffering from preventable illness and death, as well as from disruptions to family life, workplaces, schools, the national economy, and national security. This report details the steps needed to prepare the CDC to tackle emerging health threats.