CSIS Releases Major Report on Strengthening CDC’s Epidemic Preparedness and Response Capabilities

Bipartisan working group offers new recommendations across the U.S. government to strengthen CDC’s performance in preventing and responding to dangerous outbreaks

WASHINGTON, January 12, 2023: The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) today released a landmark report with actionable recommendations for strengthening the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s performance in preventing and responding to dangerous outbreaks, Building the CDC the Country Needs. The report was developed by a bipartisan working group cochaired by Dr. Tom Inglesby and Dr. J. Stephen Morrison, organized under the auspices of the CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security.

A fundamental premise of the report is that today, CDC has entered a moment of peril. CDC, a long-heralded national public health asset, has suffered a sharp decline in popular trust and confidence, a signal of widespread concern over its performance in preventing and responding to dangerous outbreaks, at home and abroad. The report affirms that the United States needs a strong, effective, and more accountable national public health agency to protect the health of all Americans and ensure the stability of the broader world.

“CDC has stumbled badly and is at risk of further decline. A CDC reset is a matter of U.S. national security. CDC leadership needs to prove its head is fully in the reform game. But true power to change CDC lies at the White House, with the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and with senior congressional figures in both chambers and both parties. These powers need to rally behind a common reform agenda, if trust in CDC and CDC’s performance are to be restored,” said Dr. Morrison, CSIS senior vice president, director of the CSIS Global Health Policy Center and its Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security, and cochair of the working group.

The commission launched its CDC working group in August 2022 to conduct a rapid review of critical CDC capabilities related to epidemic preparedness and response. The report’s 38 signatories include experts on CDC and its state and local partners, on pandemic preparedness and response domestically and globally, and on the U.S. government interagency and congressional policymaking processes. The authors consulted with current and former government officials from both sides of the aisle, including senior CDC leaders and five former agency directors, including directors from each of the past four administrations. Throughout, the effort has been bipartisan, in recognition that a significant reset of CDC requires building consensus on actionable recommendations across branches of government and across party lines.

“The country needs a scientifically strong, operationally effective CDC to help drive preparedness and response to future epidemics,” said Dr. Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and cochair of the working group. “For CDC to succeed, urgent changes are needed—to recruit and retain top talent; to strengthen its relationships with policymakers, health agencies, and the private sector; to build better data systems; and more. This report sets out a concrete plan to make this happen.”

The CSIS report enumerates the essential, concrete, near-term steps that will return CDC to a pathway of high performance: clarifying and better integrating CDC’s core domestic and global missions; enhancing CDC’s leadership and transparency by bolstering its communications and federal engagement capacities; creating a much stronger competency in Washington; and bolstering its operational and surge capabilities through updated frontline engagement, workforce development, data analysis, and budget flexibility. Across all reforms, greater attention to equity and accountability will be essential.

The authors argue that these measures can deliver results. If, however, they are not enacted, CDC will likely see a further erosion of its standing and capacities, U.S. global leadership will falter, and Americans will remain unnecessarily vulnerable to dangerous biological threats. Such an outcome is antithetical to U.S. national interests.

This report enhances CSIS’s bipartisan research and analysis on U.S. health security policy and the challenging legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic. Through the CSIS Global Health Policy Center and its Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security, CSIS produces authoritative and timely content that delivers clarity and understanding to policymakers, strategists, media, and other thought leaders around the globe. To read the full report, please visit here.

CSIS will host an event to launch the report on Tuesday, January 17, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Find additional details and register to join here.


The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a bipartisan, nonprofit policy research organization dedicated to advancing practical ideas to address the world’s greatest challenges.