A small reference to a big number in a Wall Street Journal story about the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caught medical writer Mike Stobbe’s attention. It reported that Dr. Robert Redfield’s salary was $375,000.
That seemed like a large sum, much more than previous CDC directors had been paid, thought Stobbe, who has covered the nation’s top public health agency for more than 12 years.
His hunch proved correct. His subsequent reporting showed that Redfield’s compensation was nearly double that of the previous Trump administration nominee, who resigned after six months, and more than the government’s other top health officials.
The scoop – which led Redfield to later ask for a pay cut – nets Stobbe this week’s Beat of the Week.
Stobbe has long made it part of his beat work to request – and then record – specific information about every CDC director, including their date of birth, compensation, start date and when they left the agency. He drew from that background when he spotted the salary in the Journal story.
As part of his beat work, Stobbe requests and records specific information about every CDC director, including their compensation.
A quick check of his records showed that Redfield was being paid nearly double the salary of Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the CDC nominee who resigned after six months. Her pay was $197,300.
Two CDC directors who Stobbe talked with said Redfield’s compensation was significantly more than previous directors and noted that none of them had ever been hired using Title 42, a salary program which was established to attract health scientists with rare and critical skills to government work to fill gaps in expertise.
Hundreds of scientists at the CDC and thousands at the National Institutes of Health were hired under the program. But CDC directors traditionally were not because they are hired to run the agency, not to do specialized research.
Stobbe reported that Redfield was hired under a program to recruit scientists with rare skills, but as agency head, Redfield is not doing specialized research.
Stobbe also discovered that Redfield was making more than his boss, Alex Azar, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ($199,700); Dr. Francis Collins at the NIH (also $199,700); and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, head of the Food and Drug Administration ($155,500).
News organizations, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and The Hill, cited Stobbe's report. Citing the AP story, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, wrote to Azar demanding to know why Redfield was making so much and whether the Title 42 program was used appropriately.
A week later, HHS revealed that Redfield would be taking a pay cut at his request, saying the topic had become a distraction. The agency hasn’t revealed his new pay level.
For his diligent beat work and eagle eye, Stobbe win’s this week’s Beat of the Week prize.