Friday, June 15, 2007

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wastes millions of dollars on “failed prevention efforts, international junkets and lavish facilities,” a Republican senator says in a lengthy oversight report.

The CDC, which has a $10 billion annual budget, “employs many honest, hard-working people who shoulder a very important mission for our nation,” Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said. “Yet, like most agencies, it offers many examples of how an agency with a large budget can veer off track in prioritizing its funds.”

Mr. Coburn’s office released the 115-page report, “CDC Off Center,” this week.

The report says the CDC spent more than $1 billion in the past six years on construction and building repairs. This includes a $106 million state-of-the-art visitors’ center; a $109 million operations center, which includes $9.8 million in new furniture for employees; and a new fitness center for employees that has $200,000 in equipment, zero-gravity chairs and saunas. The agency allocated $250,000 in 2006 to hire people to address low employee morale and “workplace concerns.”

The CDC also spent $5 billion in the past seven years on HIV/AIDS prevention, with the goal of cutting the annual HIV infections in half by 2006. However, the number of new HIV cases remains steady at 40,000 a year, and both the Office of Management and Budget and Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General have found fault with the prevention program.

The CDC also failed to reduce the incidence of syphilis, even through the curable sexually transmitted disease recently seemed close to elimination. In 2000, Congress boosted syphilis-prevention funding from $18.8 million to $33 million and has spent that much more every year since. But since 2000, syphilis cases have jumped from 6,158 to 8,953 in 2005, largely due to outbreaks in the male homosexual population.

At the same time, the CDC came under fire for funding a San Francisco group that hosted programs called “Great Sex” and “Booty Call,” and a homosexual advocacy group that filed for bankruptcy amid claims of fiscal mismanagement.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said the agency shares Mr. Coburn’s view on the need to be accountable with taxpayer funds and has sent the senator an “exhaustive” amount of information to address concerns.

The 60-year-old CDC has some new facilities, but “we are not talking about anything extraordinary,” said Mr. Skinner, adding that agency leaders would like Mr. Coburn to visit the new facilities. As for HIV and syphilis prevention, Mr. Skinner said the CDC is continuing its comprehensive “ABC” approach of promoting sexual abstinence, sexual fidelity (“be faithful”) with an uninfected partner and consistent use of contraception and condoms.

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