More than half of Centers for Disease Control (CDC) staff go on to work for big pharma, a first-of-its-kind report has found.

The analysis found that, between 2004 and 2020, 54 percent of workers who left the agency for another job moved into the private health sector.

At the same time, a significant number of new staff hired by government health agencies come directly from private drug firms.

Researchers from the University of Southern California and Harvard University who published the report said this ‘revolving door’ between federal workers and private healthcare companies has made government agencies vulnerable to corruption.

The study leader called to expand federal ‘cooling off’ laws — which prohibit former government employees from immediately lobbying on behalf of private organizations.

The researchers found that 15 percent of HHS employees had been employed in private industry immediately prior to their appointment in the government (stock pic)

The researchers found that 15 percent of HHS employees had been employed in private industry immediately prior to their appointment in the government (stock pic)

The report also found that over a third of people appointed to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) leave to take jobs in the healthcare private sector, as do 53 percent of employees at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The HHS is the branch of the US government that deals with health, and the CDC is one of its major components. 

Currently, government ex-employees must wait one year after leaving these health agencies before lobbying or having ‘any communication to or appearance before any officer or employee of their former agency on behalf of anyone seeking official action.’

This was set up to prevent people from ‘switching sides’ on a matter they worked on during their government role.

But the new report says the laws don’t go far enough.

The researchers looked at the career histories of 766 people appointed to HHS between 2004 and 2020 who occupied political appointments, including agency heads, senior-level administrators and their aides.

They used the United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions, also known as the Plum Book, which is published every four years after each presidential election and lists all positions in the federal government.

They used the book to collect the names of all HHS employees occupying appointed positions. They then manually searched LinkedIn to see where each person worked in the two years before and two years after their HHS appointment.

They found that 15 percent had been employed in private industry immediately before their appointment in government.

Almost a third (32 percent) left their HHS role for industry.  

Industry was the most common next destination after working at HHS, rather than other jobs in government, nonprofit and academia.

Republican presidents were more likely to appoint people directly from industry.

The authors said: ‘The mere existence of a revolving door is not surprising or necessarily problematic.’

Employees can get higher salaries in biopharmaceutical industries than government jobs, and government regulators who previously worked in industries they are regulating might have helpful insights.

But Genevieve Kanter, study co-author and associate professor of public policy at the University of Southern California, said she was ‘really concerned’ about ‘whether the personnel flow might lead to biases in government decision making.’

She explained that current cooling-off laws tend to last no more than two years and are narrow in scope because they ‘do not cover much lobbying related to agency decision making, like regulations and drug authorizations — so they don’t necessarily deter that behavior.’

Ms Kanter added: ‘The direction one might go is to expand the cooling off laws. But that’s a blunt instrument for a lot of subtle things that might be going on in terms of the effects of the revolving door.’

The study was published in the journal Health Affairs.

In 2015, former Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner was hired as the new CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) — a national trade organization of health insurance companies. 

Ms Tavenner previously worked as the chief administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services between 2013 and 2015.

Her appointment to AHIP in 2015 came just a few months after the health insurance industry also hired former Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, a Pennsylvania Democrat, to head up Better Medicare Alliance — a research group that supports the private health insurance option Medicare Advantage.  

Meanwhile, the former head of Eli Lilly between 2012 and 2017, Alex Azar, made the jump into government to serve as the HHS secretary from 2018 to 2021 under President Trump.

A 2012 investigation by Sunlight Foundation found that, on average, a chief of staff at Capitol Hill could increase their earnings by 40 percent by moving into the private sector. 

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