Politics rampant in surgeon general office
by Bob Roehr
The Bush administration manipulated numbers and suppressed reports from the office of the U.S. Surgeon General, according to testimony by the former head of that office, Dr. Richard Carmona. His revelations came in testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on July 10.
"Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological, or political agenda" of his superiors at the Department of Health and Human Services or the White House "is often ignored, marginalized, or simply buried," Carmona said.
"The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds," Carmona added.
"Much of the discussion was being driven by theology, ideology, and preconceived beliefs that were scientifically incorrect." Carmona said this applied to a wide range of issues, from stem cell research to abstinence-only programs to prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases to global health issues.
HHS spokesman Bill Hall said the administration disagreed with Carmona's assessment.
"It has always been this administration's position that public health policy should be rooted in sound science," Hall said.
The Bush presidency has faced extensive criticism for suppressing data dealing with global warming and environmental issues as well as health concerns. Some have gone so far as to call it a "war on science."
The surgeon general office has a history of being a lightning rod for controversy. For decades the tobacco industry has challenged its reports on smoking and health risks associated with tobacco use. Former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop said that Ronald Reagan was pressured by many to fire Koop for his statements on AIDS, but did not.
The Clinton administration tried to suppress politically inconvenient data showing the effectiveness of needle exchange programs in curbing the spread of HIV among injection drug users. And it forced out Dr. Jocelyn Elders in 1994 for her candid remarks that perhaps the teaching of masturbation should be a part of HIV prevention programs.
Oversight committee chairman Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) said, "The surgeon general has to be independent if he is going to have any credibility" as the nation's physician.