The next time you are feeling under the weather – perhaps home sick in bed and looking for a way to pass the time – you may want to read through the new 115-page Senate report on the outrageous and wasteful spending practices of the taxpayer-funded Centers for Disease Control, or CDC. On second thought, what you read in this report just might make you feel worse.
For years, CDC officials in Atlanta have made the trek up to Capitol Hill to request additional funding to carry out their mission of “preventing and controlling disease, injury and disability.” With the annual CDC budget currently at $10 billion, Sen. (and medical doctor) Tom Coburn, R-Okla., decided it was time for the activities of the CDC to be put under scrutiny.
Coburn spearheaded efforts to publish the just released Senate subcommittee report “CDC Off Center.” For an indication of what the investigative team found, you need look no further than the report subtitle: “A review of how an agency tasked with fighting and preventing disease has spent hundreds of millions of tax dollars for failed prevention efforts, international junkets and lavish facilities, but cannot demonstrate it is controlling disease.”
Here are a few examples of outlandish CDC spending revealed in the report:
- Construction of a lavish new $106 million visitor center in Atlanta – the 202,000 square foot Thomas R. Harkin Global Communications Center, including a 70 by 25 foot video wall of plasma television screens and a $20 million TV studio. The previous visitor center was built in 1996.
- A new $109 million 325,000 square foot Arlen Specter Headquarters and Emergency Operations Center, also in Atlanta, including $9.8 million in office furniture.
- A state-of-the-art “Lifestyle Facility” fitness center at the CDC’s Atlanta campus with free access for employees to enjoy such attributes as “zero-gravity” chairs with a mood-enhancing light show, which one employee called “very soothing,” plus two “quiet rooms” and two “dry-heat saunas.”
And if these expenditures don’t raise your temperature, you might get a little nauseous to learn about the taxpayer-funded activities at CDC-sponsored conferences:
- In 2003, taxpayers shelled out $300,000 for a conference in New Orleans that featured a workshop on how to defund abstinence education and a sexually graphic “entertainment” segment denigrating the vice president of the United States.
- At a 2004 conference in Thailand, attended by 150 federal employees, attendees could see a “drag” show, art shows, fashion parades and Brazilian dresses made from condoms.
- Your tax dollars were also at work at the 16th Annual International AIDS conference in Toronto in 2006. This conference, which cost taxpayers $315,000, included presentations designed to encourage recognition of prostitution as “legitimate legal work.” To make the point, one convention center exhibit included three prostitutes lying on a satin-covered bed designed to “look like a typical workplace.”
As part of its mission in fighting the very real threat of acts of bioterrorism against the United States, the CDC gave away in excess of $2.7 billion in grants from 2002-2004. Los Angeles County alone received $83 million during this period, $14 million of which was never spent. Nevertheless, the county received an additional $27.9 million in 2006.
A review of L.A. County’s spending of CDC funds by the Los Angeles Times said, “At times, the spending has stretched the definition of terrorism readiness.” The Times may have come to this conclusion after learning how CDC bioterrorism funds were used to hire Hollywood actors to portray patients in a smallpox vaccination drill, costing $57,045 for the actors, $10,000 for gift certificates, and $13,600 for pens, digital thermometers and bags for the gifts.
Other ludicrous uses of CDC grants include a transgender beauty pageant, a “safe sex” event featuring a porn star, a “Bar Night” by the San Francisco-based STOP AIDS Project and an article on how to throw an alcohol party by the same group, using federal funds designated for HIV prevention.
This scathing senate report on the wasteful and ineffective (not to mention often absurd) uses of CDC funds clearly demonstrates that the CDC has strayed far from its noble mission of fighting and preventing disease. Since its founding in 1946, Americans have trusted that the CDC has been doing its job, but this new evidence shows this agency, like all government agencies, needs constant oversight.
Hats off to Sen. Coburn and his staff for bringing to light this blatant abuse of taxpayer money. If you would like to read the entire 115-page report, visit Coburn’s website. You can voice your opinion to the CDC by calling their public line at (800) 311-3435 or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jonathan Falwell is the pastor of the historic Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., the church his father started in 1956.