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I've been trying to determine the precedence of the CDC Director using The United States Order of Precedence and I was getting stuck. I don't see the position called out explicitly in the table, nor does the agency appear in Appendix A (even though the 8-person International Boundary Commission is important enough to be listed). So I think it must fall into one of these general categories:

21b Heads of Federal Independent Agencies at Level II of the Executive Schedule (ranked by agency’s creation date; if the same, by length of service). These agencies include, but are not limited to, the following (see APPENDIX A): Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)

24a Heads of Federal Independent Agencies at Level III of the Executive Schedule (ranked by agency’s creation date; when the same, by length of service) These agencies include, but are not limited to, the following (see Appendix A): U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), Export-Import Bank of the United States, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), General Services Administration (GSA), Peace Corps (PC), U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities (NFAH), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)

31c Heads of Federal Independent Agencies at Level IV of the Executive Schedule (ranked by agency’s creation date, when the same, by length of service). See Appendix A.

38a Chairmen or Heads of other federal Boards, Councils and Commissions not previously listed

42b Directors of Offices of Executive Departments

But I've searched Google and the CDC and OPM websites and I can't find the level of the Director position for the CDC, nor even if it is on the Executive Schedule.

If it is indeed at 38a, this is surprisingly (to me) low; it's a major ($7 billion, 15,000-employee) agency, and ranking its head below, say, all former ambassadors and chiefs of diplomatic mission (37d) seems strange. So maybe I'm missing something.

Aside: I can't find many appropriate tags for this question. I think protocol would be good if it existed, but other than that I don't even know where to start.

Aside 2: My interest is understanding the relative importance of different positions being vacated in the current administration; if you know of other good proxies for this I would appreciate a comment to that effect.

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    "ranking its head below, say, all former ambassadors and chiefs of diplomatic mission (37d) seems strange" - why so? on the one hand side you've someone - who probably is a political figure - into diplomacy already, on the other you've a technocrat who leads a medical administration. Mar 16 '18 at 21:38
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    As to the list of unfilled positions under Trump, there are plenty, and some (like Ambassador to South Korea) are rather important. Mar 16 '18 at 21:40
  • @DenisdeBernardy Actually I'm interested in people leaving, not empty spots -- in this case Brenda Fitzgerald leaving the CDC. Our intuitions may differ on the reasonableness of 38a but I'd like to know the answer one way or the other.
    – Charles
    Mar 16 '18 at 21:42
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    A) Making differences between former ambassadors because of their positions could be problematic, because it would amount to a formal rating of countries (why the ex-ambassador to my country is below the ex-ambassador to my neighbour?). And also the same person may be former ambassador to several countries. So it makes sense for them to share the same level, no matter if their post was Palau or the UK.
    – SJuan76
    Mar 17 '18 at 2:37
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    B) Protocol tends to be rather static and federal agencies probably are now way more important that they were a century ago, while nowadays telecommunications make ambassadors less autonomous than they used to be; maybe the protocol just has not been updated to reflect changes. C) Even today an ambassador represents the country in the world, deals with Prime Ministers and Heads of State and Foreign Secretary at almost the same level (because s/he represents the Head of State of his country); the head of the CDC is an employee of the Health Department.
    – SJuan76
    Mar 17 '18 at 2:42
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Yes.

Category is 42b is the best fit. The Center for Disease Control is an office or agency within an executive branch department, specifically the Department of Health and Human Services within the executive branch of the United States government.

The director of CDC, formally speaking, leads an an operational division within the Public Health Service and the director of the Public Health Service in turn reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. It is not 22c because the Public Health Service director and not the CDC director is the person who reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

An analogous position would by the Commandant of the Marine Corps who leads the Marine Corps which is a separate military service but is subordinate to the Department of Navy within the Department of Defense. But, this post is called out separately and isn't part of the general rule.

This seems underrated because most people think the CDC Director and FDA Director and other leaders of major divisions within the Health and Human Services Department that are part of the Public Health Service report directly to the Secretary and don't know that the Public Health Service exists, because that is a middle management post with vague executive responsibilities that really doesn't need to exist at all, while the CDC Director and FDA Director, for example, have prominent direct line management jobs for agencies with well defined missions, instead of merely supervising a cluster of senior executives.

The CDC is not in categories 21b, 24a, 31c, or 38a because an "independent agency" in the federal government is one that is not part of a cabinet department lead by a Secretary. If a governmental body is subordinate in a direct chain of management command to someone with the title "Secretary", it is not an independent agency. Independent agencies directly report to no one but the President and often have secure terms of service that insulate them from the President as well, which denies the President the authority to fire them without good cause. Even "other federal Boards, Councils and Commissions not previously listed" are small independent agencies, because they aren't part of a cabinet department, and being subordinate to no one has higher precedence than being subordinate to someone else's subordinate.

If you want more details about senior officials in the federal government, your go to source is the Plum Book, which lists all of the politically appointed positions in the federal government with their perks.

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  • I agree with your reasoning that it is not 22c. But why not 21b/24a/31c/38a?
    – Charles
    Mar 17 '18 at 3:21
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    @Charles An "independent agency" in the federal government is one that is not part of a cabinet department lead by a Secretary. If you are subordinate in a line management manner to someone with the title "Secretary" you are not in an independent agency.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 17 '18 at 3:22
  • Got it -- thanks! And thanks for the pointer to the Plum Book.
    – Charles
    Mar 17 '18 at 3:23

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