The Need for a Strong and Stable Federal Public Health Agency Independent from Politicians

Burris, S., de Guia, S., Gable, L., Levin, D.E., Parmet, W.E., Terry, N.P. (Eds.) (2021). COVID-19 Policy Playbook: Legal Recommendations for a Safer, More Equitable Future. Boston: Public Health Law Watch.

7 Pages Posted: 11 May 2021

See all articles by Jacqueline Salwa

Jacqueline Salwa

Harvard Law School

Christopher T. Robertson

Boston University; University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law; Harvard University - Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

Date Written: May 11, 2021

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the precariousness of federal public health institutions in the United States, and how disastrously things can go when those institutions are undermined by political forces. Such institutions can be disbanded, underfunded, populated with incompetent political hacks, manipulated, or sidelined. As a field, public health in particular needs some political space, given that it requires deep scientific expertise and needs to communicate to the public clearly, reliably, and with authority to engender trust. Key public health agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in particular, should be buttressed against future political encroachment, using legal mechanisms from administrative law, which are tried and true in other domains of governance. Models include the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission (FDIC) (created in 1933), the Federal Reserve System (1913), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (1914), and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) (1935). Key features of these agencies include having multi-member boards of qualified experts to lead them, enjoying independence from the president (not able to be fired without cause), and having statutory budgetary authority by not requiring congressional appropriation or allowing executive reallocation. We discuss the ways in which independence can increase deference accorded by the courts, as well as the risk that it may reduce political accountability.

Suggested Citation

Salwa, Jacqueline and Robertson, Christopher T., The Need for a Strong and Stable Federal Public Health Agency Independent from Politicians (May 11, 2021). Burris, S., de Guia, S., Gable, L., Levin, D.E., Parmet, W.E., Terry, N.P. (Eds.) (2021). COVID-19 Policy Playbook: Legal Recommendations for a Safer, More Equitable Future. Boston: Public Health Law Watch., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3844058

Jacqueline Salwa

Harvard Law School ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States

Christopher T. Robertson (Contact Author)

Boston University ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States
6179100649 (Phone)
02215 (Fax)

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States

Harvard University - Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics ( email )

23 Everett Street
Cambridge, MA 02155
United States

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