Brenda Fitzgerald at a TEDx event in Atlanta in 2014.

TEDx Atlanta/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

CDC director resigns after report on tobacco stock purchase

Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), resigned abruptly today. She stepped down on the heels of a report from Politico that she had purchased stock in a large tobacco company 1 month into her tenure leading the nation’s top public health agency, which devotes itself to persuading smokers to quit and warning kids not to take up the habit.

“On August 9, one day after purchasing [between $1000 and $15,000 of] stock in global giant Japan Tobacco, she toured the CDC’s Tobacco Laboratory, which researches how the chemicals in tobacco harm human health,” Politico reported.

The purchase preceded Fitzgerald’s 7 September 2017 signing of an ethics agreement promising to recuse herself from any activity that could pose a financial conflict, Politico reported. Fitzgerald, a former commissioner of public health in Georgia who took the reins at CDC’s Atlanta headquarters last July, did not sell the tobacco stock until 26 October 2017.

Fitzgerald’s late summer stock purchases also included shares in drugmakers Merck and Bayer and in the health care company Humana, Politico reported. Her holdings had led to her inability to testify before lawmakers in Congress several times because of conflict of interest rules, frustrating lawmakers. “Due to conflicts of interest presented by investments, our CDC director still has to recuse herself on some of most important health issues we face,” Senator Patty Murray (D–WA), complained on 17 January, as Politico reports here.

In a statement, the Department of Health and Human Services, CDC’s parent agency, said:

This morning Secretary Azar accepted Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Dr. Fitzgerald owns certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC Director. Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.   After advising Secretary Azar of both the status of the financial interests and the scope of her recusal, Dr. Fitzgerald tendered, and the Secretary accepted, her resignation.  The Secretary thanks Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald for her service and wishes her the best in all her endeavors.