Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resigned Wednesday behind a report that she purchased stock in a tobacco company after accepting her new position -- which oversees programs geared toward ending smoking.
According to CNBC, Fitzgerald, who is also an OB-GYN, had owned stock in other tobacco companies prior to assuming her post with the CDC last July.
She was appointed to the post by former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Prior to assuming the post, she was Georgia's Commissioner of the Department of Public Health from 2011 through 2017.
Politico reported Tuesday that Fitzgerald bought shares in a tobacco company one month after she became the top public health official tasked with the job of reducing the top cause of preventable disease.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar accepted her resignation after she advised him of "both the status of the financial interests and the scope of her recusal," HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd said.
Lloyd released a statement Wednesday afternoon:
"This morning Secretary Azar accepted Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 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."
Azar replaced former Rep. Tom Price, another Georgia Republican, as HHS secretary after a Politico report on Price's extensive use of pricey government jets for official travel. That followed widespread news reports of Price's own extensive stock trading and investments in health-related companies.
As Georgia's health secretary, Politico reported, Fitzgerald owned shares in five tobacco companies — Reynolds American, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Philip Morris International, and Altria Group Inc.
This isn't the only controversy Fitzgerald faced while at the agency. In November, the 11Alive Investigators uncovered claims of wide-spread discrimination at the CDC.
Internal records showed minority employee sentiment declining over the past few years, but agency leadership failed to act.
Several employees came forward with stories typically kept secret from the public. In response, the CDC the conducted a review of the agency's Equal Employment Opportunity Office.
Dr. Anne Schuchat is the acting director effective immediately. It will be up to Secretary Azar to appoint a new CDC director.