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Last Updated

27 Dec 2002

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 29, 2002.

CDC director choices are sent to Bush

By M.A.J. McKENNA, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Two candidates for director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- one from inside the agency and one from outside -- have been submitted to the White House, and the inside candidate has emerged as the likely front-runner.

A decision is expected as early as next week.

Dr. Julie Gerberding (see photo), the CDC's acting deputy director for science, is being considered for the top post, as is Dr. Robert Redfield, a longtime AIDS vaccine researcher currently at the University of Maryland.

Their names were reportedly submitted to President Bush earlier this week by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who has been seeking a CDC director since Dr. Jeffrey Koplan stepped down March 31.

Health and Human Services officials declined comment Friday.

If chosen, Gerberding would be the first female director of the Atlanta-based CDC. She is a relative newcomer to the agency, having joined in 1998 from the University of California at San Francisco, where she led a project to prevent and control HIV infection in health care workers.

"She has been given increasing responsibility quickly, which is a sign of the confidence that people within the CDC have in her," said Dr. James Curran, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and former chief of HIV/AIDS programs at the CDC. "She is a solid scientist, personable and reasonable, and she's knowledgeable about infectious disease at a time when that has the attention and concern of the American public and the administration."

Redfield's professional interest also lies in HIV. He is a career Army physician who was one of the military's chief AIDS researchers. He is a longtime colleague of Dr. Robert Gallo, the co-discoverer of the AIDS virus and who founded the Institute of Human Virology where Redfield works.

Gerberding did not return a phone message seeking comment. Redfield could not be reached.

Gerberding and Redfield were mentioned early as possible replacements for Koplan. Since Koplan's departure, though, Bush proposed the Homeland Security Department, which is intended to absorb at least some of the functions of the CDC. That announcement did more than increase anxiety in the already unsettled agency. It also strengthened feelings in the national public health community that the CDC would need a director who was familiar with its structure and scientists.

Friday, members of nonprofit and scientific public health groups indicated privately that Gerberding was the lead contender. Some members of the CDC staff also said that the rank-and-file would welcome her appointment.

Gerberding joined the CDC as director of its health care quality program, focusing initially on HIV but then broadening the focus to include medical errors and bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Last year, she agreed to serve for several months as acting deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, the section of the CDC that houses its bioterrorism branch. Staff members who know Gerberding say she fully intended to return to the health care quality division by the end of 2001.

But then came last fall's anthrax attacks. Gerberding and several other senior managers were tapped to represent the CDC to the press and Congress. She turned out to be a superior public speaker, remaining courteous, unruffled and on-message at a time when the CDC was harshly criticized for being contradictory and slow.

There was no confirmation Friday of when the administration would announce its choice for director, though those familiar with the search indicated approval could come quickly.

The job is Thompson's to bestow and does not require congressional confirmation. But in the current environment, the CDC director will be counted for the first time as a member of the national security apparatus, so approval by other offices in Health and Human Services, by the National Institutes of Health and by the White House is considered crucial to securing the job.