The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is regularly in the news for its leadership on strategies for addressing health issues surrounding the pandemic. However, some will be surprised that the federal agency has now made the news for its treatment of black employees. In a June 30 letter addressed to CDC Director Robert Redfield signed by 1,204 of the agency’s 12,000 employees, the authors complain of ongoing discrimination or racism against black employees.

The letter’s call for change was prompted by the recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks. It was also prompted by the authors’ concern for the coronavirus pandemic’s impact upon the African-American communities, which has much higher rates of death and illness than other ethnic groups.

“In light of the recent calls for justice across this country and around the world, we, as dedicated public health professionals, can no longer stay silent to the widespread acts of racism and discrimination within CDC that are, in fact, undermining the agency’s core mission,” the letter reads.

Complaints listed

The letter listed several complaints, including:

  • Several well-meaning but underfunded efforts to diversify the agency made no impact.
  • Black employees make up 10% of leadership and 6% of a training program for future leaders within the agency.
  • The old boy/girl white network for promotions is pervasive.
  • The agency needs to declare racism as a public health crisis.

Inadequate response by leadership

According to sources within the agency, Redfield responded to the letter but did not attempt to address the complaints or concerns outlined within the employees’ letter. The wheels of change turn very slowly at federal agencies, but shifting thinking around the country on these issues outlined in the letter could mean change. In light of the issue and the agency’s profile, it is unlikely that this letter will not get swept under the rug by Redfield and other agency leaders.