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Jewish World Review Feb. 8, 2000 /2 Adar I, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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CDC: Caught Devouring Cash -- OUR FEDERAL HEALTH WATCHDOGS at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta suffer from a chronic condition: bureaucratic obesity.

Symptoms include super-sized arrogance, flabby political agendas, overconsumption of junk science, and a rapidly expanding waste line.

The CDC, which consumes a $2.5 billion annual budget, "pledges to the American people to be a diligent steward of the funds entrusted to it." Moreover, the agency vows loftily "to place the benefits to society above the benefits to the institution." Among its core institutional values, the CDC lists accountability and integrity. "We are honest and ethical in all we do. We will do what we say. We prize scientific integrity and professional excellence."

Promises, promises. This week, the Washington Post reported that the CDC essentially lied to Congress about how it spent up to $7.5 million earmarked each year since 1993 for research on the deadly hantavirus. "Instead, apparently without asking Congress, the CDC spent much of the money on other programs that the agency thought needed the funds more," the Post found.

Where did the money go? Not to investigate hantavirus-related deaths in the U.S., as Congress intended. No, the money was redirected in part to CDC disease detectives studying a viral outbreak in Malaysia. And the rest of the funding? "One official said the total diverted is almost impossible to trace because of CDC bookkeeping practices," the Post noted, "but he estimated the diversions involved several million dollars."

Caught red-handed in a blatant act of deception against Congress and taxpayers, CDC officials have offered remorseful mea culpas and heartfelt promises to reform their ways. "I apologized to Congress for any errors in CDC's reporting of budget line items and outlined actions that CDC is putting in place to ensure appropriate disclosure regarding its use of funds," CDC director Jeffrey Koplan said. "CDC immediately set about to improve budget control systems, and these changes are being made agencywide."

We've seen the red hands and bowed heads before. Just four months ago, Koplan apologized for misspending federal funds from Congress set aside for chronic fatigue syndrome. About half of the $22.7 million appropriated for the vaguely-defined malady was spent on other research or could not be accounted for by the CDC. No one was fired. Book-cookers conducted business as usual.

The agency did vow to "repay" the lost funds. Out of our pockets, of course, not theirs.

In their defense, CDC officials who surreptitiously diverted these earmarked tax dollars complain about the rank politicization of the congressional appropriations process. Small but vocal lobbies of patients clamor for federal funding of the disease du jour. Congress gives in and doles out. Sound science and public health lose.

The proper response the honest, ethical, and professional one would be for the CDC to turn down such politically-driven money and resist the temptation to play shell games with ill-gotten gains in the first place. But the CDC's own ideologically-driven appetite for regulatory expansion prevents it from saying no. The agency is not a victim of politics. It is a primary perpetrator.

Since its founding, the agency has moved far beyond the traditional government role of controlling infectious diseases and promoting worthy goals such as childhood vaccinations. Instead, it squanders millions of dollars on anti-gun screeds, anti-smoking propaganda, public relations campaigns against other politically incorrect "social" diseases (such as TV violence), and behavior modification programs that treat individual vices personal lifestyle choices as germs to be eradicated.

The CDC, which can't control its own bad habits, is bent on using its regulatory authority to control everyone else's lives in the name of public health. Congress, which recently received President Clinton's request for substantial CDC funding increases, must do more than rail against waste, fraud, and abuse. It needs to rethink the fundamental scope and mission of a power-hungry agency in desperate need of a crash diet.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate