This post has been updated.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked that his $375,000 salary be reduced after a top Democratic senator and others raised questions last week about his pay, which is almost twice what his predecessor earned and more than other past directors.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar agreed to Robert Redfield's request, an HHS spokesperson said Monday. Redfield told Azar that he did not want his compensation to become a distraction for his work at CDC, the spokesperson said. Officials provided no details on his new salary.
In a letter Friday to Azar, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asked for the justification for offering Redfield “a salary significantly higher” than that of his predecessors and other leaders at HHS.
Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, noted news reports last week that Redfield was being hired under a special salary program. Title 42, as it is known, was established by Congress to attract health scientists with rare and critical skills to government work. It grants federal agencies authority to offer salary and benefit packages that are competitive with those offered in the private sector and academia.
Murray wrote: “It is difficult to understand why someone with limited public health experience, particularly in a leadership role, is being disproportionately compensated for his work as compared to other accomplished scientists and public health leaders in comparable roles within the federal government.”
Reacting to the latest news Monday about Redfield's salary, Murray said: “The Secretary of Health reduced Dr. Redfield’s salary only after concerns were raised, and the public still deserves thorough answers to my questions about why Dr. Redfield — who has limited public health experience to begin with — was hired under a special hiring authority intended for candidates with rare scientific, technical, or clinical skills, and at a higher salary than many Cabinet secretaries.”
The 66-year-old Redfield, a former Army researcher and leading AIDS clinician and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is well respected for his clinical work but has no experience running a governmental public health agency. He was named March 21 to head the CDC.
Redfield earned an annual salary of $645,676 at the University of Maryland. The upper end of the basic salary range for CDC director is about $190,000. Former director Tom Frieden, who has a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health and was the New York City health commissioner from 2002 to 2009, earned $219,700.
Redfield succeeds Brenda Fitzgerald, the former Georgia health commissioner who resigned Jan. 31 because of financial conflicts of interest. She served only half a year. Her annual pay rate was $197,300, the Associated Press reported, an increase from her $175,000 annual salary as the head of Georgia’s health department, according to state salary records.
Neither Frieden nor Fitzgerald was paid under the Title 42 program.
Redfield also earns more than his boss, Azar, whose annual compensation is $199,700, according to an HHS spokesman. Francis Collins, who is head of the National Institutes of Health, earns the same as Azar. Redfield’s pay is more than twice that of Scott Gottlieb, head of the Food and Drug Administration, who makes $155,500. For the jobs filled by Azar, Gottlieb and Collins, the salaries are set by law.
Caitlin Oakley, an HHS spokeswoman, said Friday that Redfield’s recruitment “was a rare opportunity to hire one of the world’s leading virologists.” In a statement, she noted his more than 30 years of experience as “a groundbreaking scientist, academic researcher, and clinician who has been a global leader in the fight against one of the most devastating infectious diseases of our time — HIV/AIDS.”
Oakley added: “Dr. Redfield is someone who understands this work from all of these perspectives and has firsthand knowledge of what researchers and practitioners need to keep the American people safe at home and abroad.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, Redfield supported policies that have raised deep concern among some AIDS advocates because they were not considered sound public health approaches to the epidemic. The critics believe those policies also stigmatized people who were infected and feared being fired — and losing their health insurance.
Redfield has resigned his positions at four groups, including a gene therapy biotechnology company and a conservative AIDS organization, to comply with government ethics rules, according to his financial disclosures.
Redfield has also divested stock holdings in two private biotechnology companies and is recusing himself from participating in matters involving the University of Maryland and seven organizations, according to his ethics agreement and a memorandum about his recusals provided to The Washington Post by an individual with knowledge of the plans.
His university compensation for the 15-month period from 2017 through this March was $757,100 plus a $70,000 bonus, according to his financial disclosure.