May 1, 2018

The CDC director just asked for a pay cut. (Really.)

Daily Briefing

    CDC Director Robert Redfield has asked to have his $375,000 annual salary reduced, after Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and others raised questions Redfield's comparatively high pay.

    Redfield's background

    Redfield graduated from Georgetown University and Georgetown University School of Medicine and completed his residency in internal medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Previous Republican administrations have considered Redfield to lead CDC and NIH, though he never was appointed to the positions.

    Redfield is considered a pioneering researcher on HIV/AIDS. He co-founded the Institute of Human Virology, where he is the director of the division of clinical care and research. At the institute, Redfield focused on clinical research and care for chronic human infections, with a particular focus on HIV/AIDS.

    Redfield has several years of experience treating individuals who use illicit drugs, such as heroin, with such patients accounting for about half of the HIV/AIDs patients treated at the institute. CDC has awarded the institute more than $138 million in grants to fight HIV/AIDS and other health issues in foreign countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zambia.

    Redfield does not appear to have prior experience with leading a public government health agency. However, Redfield advised NIH and served on an advisory council on HIV/AIDS during former President George W. Bush's administration.

    Salary details

    According to the New York Times, Redfield's $375,000 annual salary was nearly two times higher than the salaries received by his predecessors and was higher than the salaries of leaders at many other government agencies. For instance, former CDC Directors Brenda Fitzgerald and Tom Frieden had annual salaries of $197,300 and $219,700, respectively, according to the Times. HHS Secretary Alex Azar, whose department oversees CDC, has an annual salary of $199,700, the Washington Post's "To Your Health" reports, while NIH Director Francis Collins, receives an annual salary of $199,700, and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, receives an annual salary of $155,500.

    According to the Times, the federal government approved Redfield's $375,000 annual salary under Title 42—a policy created by Congress that gives federal agencies, particularly HHS and the Environmental Protection Agency, the power to pay certain leaders higher salaries than the approved government rate if the leaders "provide a specific scientific need that cannot otherwise be filled." The higher salaries are intended to compete with those the individuals could receive in the private sector, the Times reports.

    Murray, others raise concerns

    Murray in a letter sent Friday to Azar expressed concerns about Redfield's comparatively higher salary, The Hill reports.

    Murray wrote, "It is difficult to understand why someone with limited public health experience, particularly in a leadership role, is being disproportionately compensated for his work as compared to other accomplished scientists and public health leaders in comparable roles within the federal government."

    Murray asked whether HHS had undergone an "extensive and exhaustive" effort to find a CDC director before the department decided to higher Redfield and pay him a higher salary. Murray also asked for documents related to the department's search and recruitment efforts, as well as descriptions of the post as a "scientific position" and a briefing on the issue.

    According to the Times, Lawrence Noble, senior director of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, separately has raised questions about HHS using Title 42 to pay Redfield a higher salary. "One of the points behind it was that the agency was not able to get these people unless they paid under Title 42," Nobel said, adding, "It seems somewhat incongruous to have someone who's been trying to get the job for many years to be paid under it." Nobel continued, "CDC has to show that it had to [pay Redfield the higher salary] to get him, and that it needed him for the job."

    But HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley said CDC had "a rare opportunity to hire one of the world's leading virologists" when it hired Redfield. "Redfield has over 30 years of experience as a groundbreaking scientist, academic researcher, and clinician who has been a global leader in the fight against one of the most devastating diseases of our time—HIV/AIDS," she said, adding, "Redfield is someone who understands this work from all of these perspectives and has firsthand knowledge of what researchers and practitioners need to keep the American people safe at home and abroad."

    Redfield asks for salary cut

    According to the Times, an HHS spokesperson on Monday said Redfield has requested a salary reduction and "expressed to … Azar that he does not wish to have his compensation become a distraction for the important work of the CDC." The spokesperson added that, "consistent with … Redfield's request," HHS would adjust Redfield's compensation "accordingly."

    HHS did not provide details on Redfield's new salary, the Times reports (Haberkorn, "Pulse," Politico, 5/1; Kaplan, New York Times, 4/27; Greenwood, The Hill, 4/27; Sun, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 4/27; Pittman, "Pulse," Politico, 4/30; Weixel, The Hill, 4/30; Belluck, New York Times, 4/30;).

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