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Atlanta police insist CDC said missing scientist was passed over for promotion

Budget Battle Georgia
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The Atlanta Police Department is standing by statements that a missing scientist was recently passed over for a promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite a recent denial by the agency's top official.

Police had previously told reporters that the CDC epidemiologist, Timothy Cunningham, had vanished shortly after talking to his supervisor about why he had not been promoted. This information had come directly from the CDC, police said.

"We stand behind every statement the Atlanta Police Department made about Dr. Cunningham’s employment, as our information came directly from the CDC," officials from the public information office said in an email. "Any further questions about Dr. Cunningham’s employment, or this statement issued by the CDC yesterday, would need to be answered by the CDC."

In a statement issued Monday, CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat had charged that multiple news reports saying Cunningham had been passed up for a promotion were false. She noted that Cunningham had received a promotion last year.

"There has been news coverage that Commander Cunningham recently did not receive a promotion," Schuchat said. "As many of his colleagues ... have pointed out, this information is incorrect. In fact, he received an early promotion/exceptional proficiency promotion to Commander effective July 1, 2017, in recognition of his exemplary performance in the U.S. Public Health Service. Over and above any of his assignments at CDC, his early promotion within the USPHS reflects his excellence as an officer and an employee."

Cunningham vanished a month ago after telling co-workers he wasn't feeling well. He called two family members that morning but hasn't reached out to anyone since, and police do not have any leads but have been able to locate his wallet, identification, and cellphone. Cunningham, 35, was an epidemiologist in the CDC's U.S. Public Health Service and was based out of Atlanta.

According to multiple reports based on police information, Cunningham was told he wouldn't receive a promotion roughly a week before he disappeared and received an explanation the day he vanished.

The CDC did not respond to inquiries asking for clarification. It isn't clear whether Cunningham was expecting a separate promotion from the one he received in 2017.