Why It Matters: Dr. Cohen will oversee the C.D.C.’s response to public health crises.
The appointment does not require Senate confirmation, meaning Dr. Cohen can assume leadership of the C.D.C. as soon as Dr. Walensky steps down. Congress recently passed legislation requiring the agency’s director be confirmed, but the provision does not take effect until 2025.
In her own statement Friday, Dr. Walensky called Dr. Cohen “perfectly suited to lead C.D.C. as it moves forward by building on the lessons learned from Covid-19.”
The Biden administration allowed the federal Covid public health emergency declaration to lapse in May. Dr. Cohen will oversee the C.D.C.’s recently revised efforts to track the coronavirus, including in wastewater. She will also be responsible for a vast set of public health crises handled across the agency’s centers, including other infectious disease outbreaks and opioid use.
The C.D.C. has faced dwindling public trust as the nation recovers from a pandemic in which the agency bungled early efforts to test Americans, allowed political interference in its scientific literature and delivered what health experts say was muddled guidance on testing, masking and understanding the spread of the virus.
Dr. Cohen was said to be the top candidate on a sizable list of names that administration officials whittled down in recent weeks. She was the top choice of Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House chief of staff and the Biden administration’s former Covid response coordinator, according to one person familiar with the search process.
Background: Dr. Cohen brings experience in the public and private sectors.
Dr. Cohen, an internist and executive at Aledade, a company that supports community health clinics and physicians, served in the Obama administration, including as chief operating officer and chief of staff for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, who left the White House this week after leading the Biden administration’s Covid-19 response, said that Dr. Cohen has unusually strong public- and private-sector credentials for a C.D.C. chief.
“One of the things we’ve learned in this pandemic and other public health crises is that effective response requires bridging both public health and the health care delivery system,” he said. “There are just very few people who have deep expertise in both.”
Dr. Cohen also oversaw North Carolina’s Covid-19 response as a political appointee at a time of divided state government, experience that some public health experts said could translate to the complexities of running an Atlanta-based agency within the Washington-based Department of Health and Human Services.
“What’s important now with an incoming C.D.C. director is the ability to work with officials in Washington and around the country,” said Dr. Tom Inglesby, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Before Mr. Biden announced his intention to appoint Dr. Cohen, a group of Republican lawmakers wrote to him objecting to her likely selection, citing her support for mask requirements and saying she had “politicized science.”
What’s Next: Dr. Cohen will be busy overseeing an agency overhaul.
Dr. Walensky last year began a broad effort to reorganize what public health experts say is a chronically underfunded agency, a process that Dr. Cohen will take over. That includes work to modernize its data systems and improve its communications with the public.