CIDRAP News carried a short piece about the new CDC Acting Director, Dr. Richard Besser. We don’t learn a lot new beyond the official facts. The Bush CDC Director, Dr. Julie Gerberding, resigned as the Obama Presidency began. The CDC Director is a non-career appointment, which means that it is made by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. But there is as yet only a nominee for that post, Tom Daschle. The Besser appointment was thus made by the acting secretary of DHHS, Charles Johnson. Besser is a pediatrician and former Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer whose last position was dirctor of CDC’s Coordinatng Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response, a position he took over two hours before Hurricane Katrina struck. He seems to have done a number of things at CDC, including foodborne disease outbreaks as an EIS officer (common fare for that position), epidemiology section chief in the Respiratory Diseases Branch, acting chief of the Meningitis and Special Pathogens Branch in the National Center for Infectious Diseases, and medical director of a CDC campaign to promote appropriate antibiotic use in the community. He spent 5 years in academic medicine in the mid nineties, between his EIS stint and the other positions.
So will Besser become the new CDC Director? I don’t know. He could be just a caretaker pending a search or selection of a permanent Director after Daschle is confirmed or this could be a try-out. Whoever takes this job will have as an early task restoring the morale in an agency that has been devastated by managerial incompetence, political interference with science and a leadership that failed to champion and protect and speak for the agency and public health in general. In other words, a typical steaming pile of Bush shit. The little I’ve heard about Besser suggests he is a reasonable sort of guy.
That’s a step in the right direction. But is it a big enough step? Just askin’.