The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a new boss, Dr. Robert Redfield, who ignited controversy because of his dubious qualifications for the job and the over-the-top salary offer that came with it. Initially slated to earn $375,000 a year, Redfield faced questions from Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, and last week agreed to work for $209,700 instead.
Redfield’s original salary was unusually, astoundingly high. Redfield’s boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar makes only $175,300, and most scientists and physicians working in HHS make less than $170,000 a year.
I scrutinized nearly 1,000 pages of payroll listings at the Department of Health and Human Services, and found few CDC employees who earn more than $150,000 annually. Some make considerably more than that, thanks to Title 42, a policy that gives federal agencies flexibility on salary limits in order to lure outstanding scientists and other professionals into government work.Just two individuals make more than $350,000, ranking them the most highly paid federal employees after the President (who is paid $400,000): Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Rachel Sherman, deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Having run NIAID since 1984, Fauci is the longest serving Institute director in NIH history. He has been an adviser to five presidents, architect of the HIV program PEPFAR, the 24th most-cited scientist in history and recipient of every major biomedical award besides the Nobel Prize, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.Sherman tried to resign her FDA post in 2014, but the Obama administration fought to retain her, as she has proven invaluable in designing and overseeing virtually every pharmaceutical testing, labeling and surveillance program used by the agency.Redfield’s early engagement with the AIDS epidemic in the US in the 1980s and 90s was controversial. As an Army major at Walter Reed Medical Institute, he designed policies for controlling the disease within the US military that involved placing infected personnel in quarantine and investigating their pasts to identify and track possible sexual partners. Soldiers were routinely discharged and left to die of AIDS, humiliated and jobless, often abandoned by their families.In the 1980s Redfield worked closely with W. Shepherd Smith, Jr. and his Christian organization, Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy, or ASAP. The group maintained that AIDS was “God’s judgment” against homosexuals, spread in an America weakened by single-parent households and loss of family values.Redfield wrote the introduction to a 1990 book, “Christians in the Age of AIDS,” co-written by Smith, in which he denounced distribution of sterile needles to drug users and condoms to sexually active adults, and described anti-discrimination programs as the efforts of “false prophets.”In the early 1990’s, ASAP and Redfield also backed H.R. 2788, a House bill sponsored by deeply conservative Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-California). It would have subjected people with HIV to testing, loss of professional licenses and would have effectively quarantined them. (The bill died in Congress.) In the 2000s, Redfield was a top advocate for the so-called “ABCs of AIDS” in Africa, pressing to prevent HIV infection through sexual abstinence, monogamy and the use of condoms only as a last resort.