The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reportedly invested more than $25,000 in media training and executive coaching to help Director Rochelle Walensky improve her messaging and communicate more effectively. Since October 2021, the agency has paid Mandy Grunwald, a seasoned Democratic political strategist, $16,000 for media training, and since March 2021, it has paid Tim Sullivan, the founder of management consulting company Wellesley Partners, $9,750 for executive management coaching.
According to Politico, expense filings revealed that Walensky’s training with Grunwald was meant to “assist [Walensky’s] team in crafting clear language to communicate CDC’s public health guidance and coach Dr. Walensky to effectively deal with television interviews and other public communications” Kathleen Conley, a representative for Walensky explained that media training is a standard for CDC directors “to ensure they are effectively and clearly communicating to public health partners and the American people.” She added that “This type of training is not an unusual practice. It is a long-standing, prudent practice inside and outside of government for high-level officials to seek executive coaching.”
After just one year as CDC director, Walensky acknowledged that her messaging was not always clear after she came under fire for how she had explained pandemic precautions including mask use. In January, she told the Wall Street Journal, “I think what I have not conveyed is the uncertainty in a lot of these situations.”
Under the Government Employees Training Act, agencies have the option to fund staff training, which was utilized after Walensky was picked to lead the CDC in January 2021, during what some consider to be the peak of the outbreak. She was entrusted with enhancing the organization’s reputation under the incoming Biden administration at a crucial juncture for public health.