Leading Dem: CDC director's financial investments pose conflict of interest

Leading Dem: CDC director's financial investments pose conflict of interest
© Keren Carrion

The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has had to recuse herself from involvement in significant health issues because her investments might pose a conflict of interest, says Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayJohnson & Johnson subpoenaed by DOJ and SEC, company says Top Dems blast administration's proposed ObamaCare changes Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Dems blast rulemaking on family planning program | Facebook may remove anti-vaccine content | Medicare proposes coverage for new cancer treatment MORE (D-Wash.)

Murray, ranking Democrat of the Senate Health Committee, wrote in a letter to CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald that her remaining investments prevent her from engaging in matters relating to cancer and the opioid crisis. 

Murray obtained a copy of Fitzgerald's ethics agreement, which shows that the former Georgia health official has holdings in companies that she can't divest from because of legal and contractual obligations. 

Those include a health information technology company and a biotech company that focuses on early cancer detection. 

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"While you retain these investments, you will be unable to engage in key matters relating to cancer, the disease that is the number two cause of death in our country," Murray wrote in the letter. 

"You may also be unable to engage in the response to the opioid crisis given your apparent conflict with regard to opioids and specifically with prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs)," she wrote. 

Murray requested that Fitzgerald schedule a briefing with the Health Committee to explain her investments and whether she'll be able to resolve the ongoing conflicts of interest by Dec. 19. 

"I am concerned that you cannot perform the role of CDC director while being largely recused from matters pertaining to cancer and opioids, two of the most pervasive and urgent health challenges we face as a country," Murray said. 

In an interview with The Washington Post, Fitzgerald said her recusals are "very limited" and that she will "continue to be alert" to sell or transfer the holdings in the future. 

Fitzgerald has already sold a variety of stocks related to health care.

Murray also noted that Fitzgerald has yet to testify before Congress. 

She has sent deputies in her place to testify at congressional hearings on the opioid crisis three times, Murray said. 

"At a time when the need for a comprehensive and ongoing response from the federal government is clear, Congress must be able to hold federal agencies accountable for their role in the response to the opioid crisis, which includes the head of the agency participating in relevant Congressional hearings," Murray said.