CDC director asks for salary reduction after questions raised

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked to have his salary reduced after a top Senate Democrat raised questions about his $375,000 annual compensation, which is more than double what his predecessor earned.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, who oversees the CDC, agreed to Robert Redfield’s request, an HHS spokesperson said Monday. Redfield told Azar he did not want to have his compensation become a distraction for the agency. HHS did not detail what the new salary will be.

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal Trump health official defends funding shifts to pay for detained migrant children Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh MORE (Wash), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, on Friday sent a letter to Azar raising concern over Redfield’s salary and questioning whether the agency appropriately used a special hiring authority to pay him.

Murray noted Redfield’s salary was “significantly larger than that of his CDC Director predecessors” and asked the CDC to justify why it used a special hiring program called Title 42 — which was created to draw in health scientists with rare and critical skills to government work.

“It is difficult to understand why someone with limited public health experience, particularly in a leadership role, is being disproportionately compensated for his work as compared to other accomplished scientists and public health leaders in comparable roles within the federal government,” Murray wrote.

The use of Title 42 to justify Redfield's $375,000 annual salary was first reported by The Associated Press.

Redfield’s predecessor Brenda FitzgeraldBrenda FitzgeraldOvernight Health Care: Drug company under scrutiny for Michael Cohen payments | New Ebola outbreak | FDA addresses EpiPen shortage CDC director to take pay cut of more than 5k CDC director asks for salary reduction after questions raised MORE was not paid under the program, and made $197,300 annually. Neither was her predecessor, Tom Frieden, whose compensation in 2016 was $219,700.

Fitzgerald held the position for only six months, and resigned as CDC director in late January following reports that she purchased stock in tobacco companies.

In response to Murray’s letter, HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley in a statement said “the recruitment of Dr. Robert Redfield was a rare opportunity to hire one of the world’s leading virologists.”

Redfield is a former HIV researcher who worked in the Department of Retroviral Research within the U.S. Military HIV Research Program and served in the Army Medical Corps for 20 years before retiring. He also served as a member of the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS from 2005 to 2009

Oakley’s statement noted Redfield’s experience, and added that “the selection of Dr. Redfield was the right choice at the right time for the right purpose.”

Redfield’s work as a researcher has raised concerns among Democrats and AIDS activists.

In the 1990s, Redfield was investigated for misrepresenting data to promote an AIDS vaccine he was connected with, but the Army concluded at the time it didn't constitute misconduct.

Earlier in his career, Redfield also advocated for controversial policies such as mandatory patient testing for HIV and for segregating HIV-positive soldiers from the rest of the Army.

The Title 42 program has come under fire in the past. House Republicans in 2012 said the Obama administration’s HHS was overusing the program, costing taxpayers money.