CDC director leaves with a mixed legacy

Dr. Julie Gerberding praised for strides against bioterrorism


Koplan was the CDC director at the time. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Koplan had a prickly relationship with Bush administration officials. He resigned in March 2002.

Gerberding was selected by Tommy Thompson, Bush's first U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, who was impressed by her performance during the anthrax crisis. She entered office pledging to work closely with the Bush administration.

She was the agency's first female director - a status highlighted in a profile in Vogue magazine that featured a full-page color photograph of her in a gray Chanel suit and white Marc Jacobs high-heeled shoes. The white streak in her hair and her "JLG" signatures on memos were well-known details of her distinctiveness.

Gerberding was a highly visible spokeswoman for the government on public health matters, eclipsing officials such as the Surgeon General and the director of the National Institutes of Health in visibility. That was due in part to the scary, urgent nature of topics her agency dealt with, including SARS, food poisoning outbreaks and the threat of a deadly new type of pandemic flu.

But her tenure also proved controversial:

• She instituted a large, morale-damaging reorganization of the agency that triggered an exodus of admired agency scientists. Gerberding said the changes made the CDC stronger. But in 2005, five previous CDC directors wrote Gerberding a joint letter expressing their concern about what was happening to the agency.

• A 2004 medical journal article co-authored by Gerberding said obesity was about to overtake smoking as the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, but CDC officials later reported they had overstated the increase in obesity-related deaths by about 35,000. The mistake was blamed on a computer software error.

• After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the agency was criticized for being slow to respond to survivors' complaints about formaldehyde fumes in trailers that had been provided by the government.

• She was criticized at times for going along with Bush administration political positions at the sacrifice of science. In 2007, she was knocked for going along with White House editing of her Senate testimony on the effects of climate change on health, which involved deletion of key portions citing diseases that could flourish in a warmer climate.


Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.