Ensuring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is strong and well-resourced can better protect the nation from public health threats, APHA’s Executive Director told members of Congress in a hearing today.

Serving as an invited witness before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Georges Benjamin discussed opportunities to bolster the nation’s leading public health agency. The COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance of have a well-trained, response-ready CDC workforce as well as a critical need for adequate, sustained funding for the agency, he said.Georges Benjamin, MD, APHA executive director, testifies at the Capitol

“For far too long, we have neglected our nation’s public health infrastructure,” Benjamin said in his written testimony. “We must end the cycle of temporary infusions of funding during emergencies and provide a sustained and reliable funding mechanism to ensure we are better prepared to protect and improve the public’s health, including our most vulnerable communities, from all threats.”

Strengthening and standardizing data reporting is an important tool, he told the subcommittee, which is reviewing CDC’s response to the pandemic. He called on legislators to pass the Improving Data in Public Health Act, which will improve CDC’s ability to collect public health data directly from health providers, labs and health departments. Receiving timely, accurate data on COVID-19 from public health workers on the ground was an issue during the pandemic, he acknowledged.

As they review actions taken during the early months and years of the pandemic, Benjamin advised House subcommittee members to keep in mind that uncertainty and rapidly changing science was the norm at the time.

“What we know today should indeed inform our future planning, but we must be mindful that what we know now is different from what we knew when key decisions were made in the past,” he said. “It is also clear that the growing polarization of public health is dangerous, counterproductive and undermines the health of the public.”

The hearing comes as CDC conducts its own internal review and improvement process through its Moving Forward initiative. Through the work, the agency has made changes to its organizational structure, including creating a new equity office and executive council, and has other plans to improve its accountability, collaboration, communication and timelines.

Critics of CDC’s response to COVID-19 should welcome the agency’s self-review, said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., the subcommittee’s ranking member, during her opening statement at the hearing.

“Everyone acknowledges that improvements are needed,” Castor said. “CDC continues to apply the hard lessons learned, and we must support that effort.”