“No one came out of our conversations thinking that the CDC was going to stop doing analyzes,” said an administration official who was involved in plans to move away from CDC data reporting responsibilities. The official, who requested anonymity, said the 24-hour disappearance of the agency’s dashboards was an unwanted surprise.
“All he did was feed the story that we were cutting the CDC when it was not at all,” said the official.
The CDC’s missing data flap is just the latest source of tension between the CDC and federal health authorities that has contributed to a fragmented response to the pandemic. CDC officials have complained that they have been unusually sidelined during the crisis as President Donald Trump pushes for faster reopening, while White House officials argue that they are being forced to bypass weak spots in the agency.
The health department took credit for restoring CDC dashboards on Thursday and said it was committed to transparency. “In the future, HHS and CDC will provide more powerful information on the coronavirus, powered by HHS Protect,” said spokesperson Michael Caputo, referring to the new data communication system that relies on external providers who received at least $ 35 million combined. The CDC did not respond to several requests.
Inside the health department, staff gave conflicting explanations for the agency’s decision to take their dashboards offline. Three officials described it as a flash of frustration at the HHS ‘order to move the management of CDC coronavirus data. An official said the agency removed dashboards just to update the system, but did not notify HHS in advance.
But they recognized that the Ministry of Health turf battles, which are now taking place in a very public fashion, are hampering the government’s response to a pandemic that has claimed the lives of approximately 140,000 people in the United States and continues to increase in many parts of the country.
Two CDC staff also left a White House data committee this week after the decision to stop using the CDC system for collecting coronavirus data. Two officials attributed the decision to the agency’s frustration with the White House decision-making, although an HHS spokesperson disputed the qualification. The spokesperson said that the employees were called back to the CDC because they were specialists in the old data collection system, and that new CDC staff with “appropriate expertise” will be detailed in the work group.
POLITICO interviewed 12 current and former administrative officials, as well as hospital systems, IT experts and government officials involved in the process of monitoring data on coronaviruses.
Within the administration, the decision to move the management of CDC data was described as a necessary and overdue corrective measure. White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx and other senior officials had become frustrated with the data delays they blamed on the CDC system, arguing that it was awkward and rigid. Among their complaints, the agency system hampered their ability to dispense remdesivir, one of the only treatments approved for Covid-19.
After discussions with the CDC in the spring on modernizing its existing system to perform work related to coronaviruses, the administration instead contracted a pair of external providers – TeleTracking and Palantir – who officials said were better. adapted to manage the evolving response of coronaviruses. An HHS spokesperson said it takes three weeks to update the CDC system each time the federal government requests a new category of information from hospitals, compared to three days for the TeleTracking system.
Birx also played a central role in the selection of Palantir to help manage the new HHS data system, said three people familiar with the decision. She had worked with the data company, which is funded by Trump ally Peter Thiel, in her previous role with the United States’ international HIV relief program.