The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has spent $16,000 on training sessions for Director Rochelle Walensky to improve her ability to speak to the media and communicate crucial public health messages during the coronavirus pandemic.
The CDC confirmed to The Hill that the $16,000 went to media training sessions with political consultant and Democratic media advisor Mandy Grunwald, who is helping to improve Walensky’s public messaging.
Additionally, the CDC has paid $9,750 for executive management coaching sessions with Tim Sullivan, the founder of management consulting firm Wellesley Partners.
Politico first reported the news, reporting the sessions ran at the cost of around $500 an hour. The news outlet obtained expense authorization filings from conservative group Americans for Public Trust, which filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
In a statement to The Hill, Kathleen Conley, a spokesperson for Walensky, said, “CDC directors have long received media coaching to ensure they are effectively and clearly communicating to public health partners and the American people.”
“This type of training is not an unusual practice,” Conley said. “It is a long-standing, prudent practice inside and outside of government for high-level officials to seek executive coaching. “
Walensky, who was appointed CDC director at the beginning of the Biden administration last year, during a peak transmission period for the novel coronavirus, has long struggled to communicate her messages effectively to the public.
Her difficulty to appear credible has led to some resentment from health experts who hoped she could re-establish the CDC’s credibility after the tumultuous Trump administration.
She has mostly avoided solo press briefings and slipped up last year when she said vaccinated people “do not carry the virus.”
Some of the biggest criticism came when the CDC announced at the end of December that infected Americans could isolate for five days instead of 10, and that a negative test would not be required to end the self-quarantine period.
That drew some confusion because experts said the CDC erred by not specifying there was a need to take a negative test before ending isolation. The CDC updated to say a test could be used if a person chose to take one.
In a January interview with the Wall Street Journal, Walensky said she has not communicated enough to the public that health guidance can rapidly change.
“I think what I have not conveyed is the uncertainty in a lot of these situations,” she said, also announcing she will begin more press briefings by herself.
Walensky’s media coach, Grunwald, is a known Democratic consultant who helped with the advertisement on former President Bill Clinton’s campaign. She has also worked with several Democratic senators.
In a statement Thursday, CDC spokesperson Conley said Walensky selected the coaches that fit for her and would best improve her messaging.
“The selection of an executive coach is a personal thing and the best coaches are those with which the principal can establish rapport and trust,” Conley said. “Dr. Walensky’s selection of a coach was based on her needs in a coach. The coach she selected best suited her.”