Can Frieden Stick to Hardnosed Style at the CDC?

May 15, 2009
by John Reichard
CQ Healthbeat

President Obama announced Friday the appointment of New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bringing a hard-nosed public health official to the helm of the sometimes troubled agency.

Frieden butted heads with the restaurant and tobacco industries in securing bans on trans-fats in restaurant foods and new limits on smoking, but ultimately prevailed in his efforts. But in stepping into a national role running the CDC, Frieden is running a different type of organization, suggested Jeff Levi, executive director for Trust for America's Health. Levi said Frieden will be less able to exercise direct authority to get results and will have to rely more on providing resources and guidance to state and local public health efforts and incentives to providers to get results. Levi said that in New York, Frieden had to get the approval of the public health board for his initiatives, which he said is different than obtaining passage of legislation.

But Levi said he expects that Frieden at CDC will provide "similarly aggressive leadership" as he did in New York.

Passed over for the top post was Richard E. Besser, who served as acting CDC director and has been widely praised for his communications with the press and policymakers concerning the outbreak of H1N1. "Besser did a wonderful job, but this was in the works before swine flu," Levi said of the Frieden appointment.

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