Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, August 19, 2013

Baden ensures CDC staff has resources to advance public health

The U.S. secretary of health's visit to Kenya went smoothly thanks to La Follette School alum Dave Baden.

As the deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's largest overseas office, Baden served as "control officer" for Kathleen Sebelius' visit to CDC Kenya. "The trip was her first to see HHS-supported work directly," Baden says. "I helped craft the schedule, the messaging and the security, and I worked closely with the Kenyan Ministry of Health to make the visit a success. The experience was incredibly time consuming, but well worth it to see things go off well during her trip."

Two men shaking hands while a third watches

Above: Dave Baden, right, greets then-U.S. ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration while former country director for CDC-Kenya Dr. Rob Breiman looks on. Below: Dave Baden and his wife added a family member while they have been in Kenya, their daughter Ruby Harper. "Interacting with a different culture with a newborn baby is very interesting," Baden says. "Having a child changes one's perspective and adds to the work/life balance part immensely!"

Man holding baby

In addition to arranging visits for dignitaries, Baden is the management and operations lead for the $200 million office. "I am in charge of ensuring the office and its staff have the tools needed to support the public health work that CDC supports in Kenya," Baden says. "I also am the main liaison to the U.S. Embassy on all budget, procurement and administrative functions."

Baden has worked for CDC since graduating from La Follette in 2001 with a Master of Public Affairs degree. His other jobs with CDC include serving as the liaison to the House/Senate Appropriations Committee and a stint on the Hill as a congressional fellow. Originally based in Atlanta, Baden and his family have been in Nairobi since December 2010.

"I was always interested in health policy," Baden says, "but I also always thought I was going to go work in Washington, D.C., after graduation. CDC in Atlanta ended up being the right choice then and the right choice now. For me and skill set I gained from La Follette, I was able to provide a unique perspective to a place with way more MDs, MPHs, and PhDs than MPAs. My DC internship at HHS also proved very valuable — I still have contacts that I met there that I work with now."

Baden also makes use of contacts with his classmates, including Tim Sweeney, who lives in Atlanta and is a Medicaid and health policy expert at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. "Tim is important in bouncing ideas off of and getting advice going forward," Baden says.

The analysis skills they picked up at La Follette continue to be valuable. "The ability to think analytically, understand and assess policy options and then move forward is clearly important," he says. "The mix of theory and practice that La Follette focuses on — not just didactics, but real-world policy situations that we were involved in — has translated often to my jobs and years at CDC. I have often had to be able to make very quick and important decisions for CDC about budget priorities and how to communicate them to a sometimes skeptical Congress. La Follette helped me build confidence by defending policy positions, by being able to write coherently and concisely."

Although Baden does not carry out much direct quantitative work anymore, he notes that the background is useful in helping him understand presentations. "I can't afford to be snowballed by bad statistics," he says.

"The quality of professors at La Follette and the interaction with a variety of students from a broad set of disciplines are great assets for students," Baden adds. "La Follette does well in training a range of students, from those who have a highly quantitative background to those who barely made it into calculus. That ability is unique and very important. Also the small size of the student body is great."

In Nairobi, Baden emphasizes how fortunate he is in his Kenyan colleagues. "My staff are an amazingly dedicated and well-educated group," he says. "Many would be great La Follette students."

Throughout the years of his service CDC, the public good has been Baden's priority. "For me, public service matters a lot," Baden says. "I have been in some pretty high-stress, high-expectation jobs at CDC, including the current job in Kenya, but the common thread is always about service. At CDC, I am not going to be the person on the front lines of disease outbreak, but I have been the one in the background ensuring money, equipment and all the tools needed are available to fight that outbreak. CDC has a lot of people who are doing what they are doing because they believe in the mission and the importance of public health. I am lucky to be a part of that."