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Senator raises conflict of interest questions about Georgia health official

WASHINGTON -- The top Democrat on the Senate health committee is raising conflict of interest questions about Brenda Fitzgerald, Georgia's onetime top health official who now leads the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Fitzgerald's federal ethics agreement raises doubts about whether she can fully tackle two of the biggest items on the $7 billion agency's plate: fighting the spiraling opioid crisis and cancer, the country's No. 2 cause of death.

“In order to ensure the CDC is led by an individual who can engage on all issues under its purview, it is imperative that you resolve the issues that are currently limiting your ability to divest from these holdings," Murray wrote in a Dec. 5 letter to Fitzgerald released Monday.

Murray said Fitzgerald had sent deputies to testify before Congress on the opioid epidemic on at least three occasions since her appointment in July. Murray asked her to schedule a briefing with the committee within the next week “to better understand the extent of her potential recusals and to clarify whether she will be able to ultimately resolve her ongoing conflicts of interest.”

In her agreement with the government ethics office, which was published Monday by the Washington Post, Fitzgerald said she could not divest from financial holdings related to cancer detection and health information technology because of legal and contractual obligations. She promised to avoid official CDC business impacting those areas.

“I’ve been assured that I can participate in broad policy work,” Fitzgerald told the Post. “I’ve done everything the ethics office said that I should do.”

An obstetrician-gynecologist who was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to lead the Georgia Department of Public Health in 2011, Fitzgerald has been a low-key presence at the CDC since she was first tapped by then-health Secretary Tom Price.

She and her husband are worth between $3.8 million and $16 million, according to her ethics form.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.