Centers for Disease Control director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald resigned from her role on Jan. 31, 2018, one day after reports surfaced that she had bought shares in a tobacco company and health-related companies one month after taking up the post.
The Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar, who was sworn in just one day before, accepted her resignation.
“This morning Secretary Azar accepted Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” HHS Spokesman Matt Lloyd said in an emailed statement. “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.”
Fitzgerald was appointed CDC director by then-HHS secretary Tom Price in July 2017. She then purchased stock in Japan Tobacco in August 2017, according to a POLITICO report on her investments. She also bought stock in Merck pharmaceutical company, Human health insurance and Bayer Corporation.
In December 2017, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray D-Wash. wrote to Fitzgerald over concerns about her financial holdings, despite Fitzgerald’s earlier assurances that she had sold stocks presenting a conflict of interest.
Dr. Tom Frieden, Fitzgerald’s predecessor, told AP News in a statement that Fitzgerald said she didn’t know about the purchase of the tobacco stocks, which was conducted by her financial manager.
“I have spoken with Dr. Fitzgerald and believe her when she says that she was unaware that a tobacco company investment had been made, she understands that any affiliation between the tobacco industry and public health is unacceptable, and that when she learned of it, she directed that it be sold,” Frieden said.
Fitzgerald is not the first senior member of HHS to resign amid concerns of improper behavior while serving at the agency, as Price himself resigned as secretary of HHS in September 2017, after his costly travel on charter flights triggered public anger and an internal review.