Koplan Resigns as Head of CDC
In a surprise announcement, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan said yesterday that he will resign as director of the CDC effective March 31, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Koplan, who has worked for the Atlanta-based agency for 26 years, became director in 1998 after being nominated by former President Clinton. "Key things have been accomplished that I was keen on seeing done. It seemed a good time for me professionally and personally to move on," he said (McKenna/Eversley, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/21). During Koplan's tenure, the CDC's public health responsibilities expanded greatly, with "time and money increasingly dedicated to chronic illnesses and conditions ... and previously unexpected threats," such as bioterrorism, the Washington Post reports (Brown, Washington Post, 2/22). Under Koplan, the CDC's budget doubled within three years to $4.3 billion in 2001, and rose to $6.8 billion this fiscal year, an increase largely due to one-time purchases of smallpox vaccines and bioterrorism-related drugs (Terhune, Wall Street Journal, 2/22).
On His Own Terms
Koplan's tenure will likely be most remembered for the agency's response to the series of anthrax incidents last fall that killed five people and led to thousands of people taking antibiotics. Many people believe that the CDC failed to offer "clear communication and leadership" to local health officials and clinical practioners after the first incidents surfaced and in particular, should have been quicker to realize that anthrax powder could easily escape from the envelopes that held the bacteria (Washington Post, 2/22). In addition, numerous physician groups and members of Congress in July called for Koplan's "immediate resignation," saying that the "failure of public health efforts to prevent the STD epidemic in America is related to the CDC's 'safe-sex' promotion and its attempts to withhold from the American people the truth of condom ineffectiveness." The call for Koplan's resignation came shortly after the release of an NIH report that said that data does not sufficiently show that condoms are 100% effective in preventing the spread of various STDs, including chlamydia, syphilis and human papillomavirus (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/25/01). The Post reports that it is uncertain whether any of this criticism had any role in his departure. For his part, Koplan said that there was "zero pressure" from the Bush administration to resign. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said that Koplan "provided dedicated leadership during very trying times for the CDC and HHS. ... He sets the standard for what it means to truly be a public servant" (Washington Post, 2/22). And William Roper, a "close friend" of Koplan who headed the CDC from 1990 to 1993 and is now dean of the University of North Carolina's School of Public Health, said, "Is he leaving because of anthrax? Of course not" (Zitner, Los Angeles Times, 2/22).
... Or Feeling Tension?
But the Journal-Constitution reports that acquaintances of Koplan said "privately" that his departure "was the result of tension" between the CDC and HHS, its parent agency (Atlanta-Journal Constitution, 2/21). And the New York Times reports that unnamed "[h]ealth officials and authorities" said that Thompson and other administration officials "had been unhappy with Koplan, contending that he had not given enough emphasis to bioterrorism, a priority" for President Bush. The officials also said that Koplan "had not done enough to coordinate the work" of the CDC with senior administration officials in Washington, D.C. In addition, the Times reports that Koplan "often appeared uncomfortable in his public role" responding to the anthrax incidents (Pear, New York Times, 2/22).