The Center for Disease Control's main mission is to prevent disease, and the agency has been credited with some terrific strides in public health. But a startling analysis from Congress says the CDC is squandering hundreds of millions of your tax dollars in ways many find hard to believe, CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports.
To talk about fat in the CDC budget, you can start 2,000 miles away in Hollywood, where CDC pays a liaison to help TV dramas and soap operas write accurate medical plots. The service is free of charge to Tinseltown moguls, through the generosity of $1.7 million of your tax dollars.
"That is obviously a waste of taxpayer dollars and they need to stop it," said Sen. Dave Weldon, R-Fla.
Weldon, who is also a doctor, is member of the House committee that funds CDC. He's outraged by the Hollywood story and other examples of spending exposed in a Congressional report: "CDC Off-Center".
It's named after Arlen Specter, a top Republican senator in charge of CDC funding. But the naming is bipartisan. A top Democrat, Sen. Thomas Harkin, gets his name on the new $106 million communications and visitors center, complete with waterfalls, plasma TV's and more.
The $200,000 fitness center rivals the most posh private clubs with $30,000 saunas, "quiet rooms" and "zero gravity chairs" complete with "mood-enhancing light shows" for stressed out employees.
As for disease prevention, your money's being spent there too, but too often with disappointing results, says the report.
AIDS grants have been given to groups who've used them for workshops on erotic writing, how to flirt, and how to throw an alcohol party.
The CDC spent $5 billion over seven years on AIDS prevention, but the infection rate didn't drop a bit.
And after it spent $269 million tax dollars on an effort to eliminate syphilis, syphilis rates went up 68 percent.
"If a private company were spending money and getting no results like that, investors would withdraw their money," Weldon said.
CDC Director Julie Louise Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H., wouldn't agree to an interview, from CDC's new state-of-the-art television studio or anywhere else.
But the agency issued a statement saying "CDC takes seriously the need to wisely and appropriately use its resources," and that the report gives an incomplete view of its "excellent public health work."
The new facility replaces dilapidated buildings and "have led to scientific advances and strengthened our ability to respond to public health emergencies."
The CDC recently told Congress it needs $1 billion more for 2008 on top of its $10 billion budget. At least some here are saying the agency needs to do a thorough internal exam before asking taxpayers to open their wallets wider.