Bush Administration Has Right To Replace Experts on HHS Advisory Committees
Although a number of critics have accused the Bush administration of "playing politics" in recent moves to replace Clinton administration appointees serving on HHS scientific advisory committees, Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, writes in a Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece that the White House has "got every right to replace the last regime's experts" (Whelan, Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/22). Last week, the Washington Post reported that the Bush administration has eliminated two advisory committees with views "at odds with the president's views" and replaced most of the members of a third committee with "handpicked choices" who have ties to the industries on which they will advise the White House. According to the Post, the recommendations of the committees "can sway an agency's approach to health risk and regulation" (California Healthline, 9/20). "Disgruntled scientists," some of whom the Bush administration has eliminated from the committees, "bitterly contend" that the White House made the moves to "assure compatibility with the administration's agenda" and argue that "scientific debate has been stifled," Whelan writes. However, according to Whelan, "What the environmental camp really objects to is not the industry connections of [the new] panelists. They simply recoil at their professionally held views and thus want them eliminated from any advisory capacity" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/22).
In a second Inquirer opinion piece, Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, criticizes the advisory committee "purges" by the Bush administration as a "housecleaning with a vengeance," adding that the "public deserves better than this in the relationship between science and government." According to Caplan, "Science and technology are far, far too important ... to be treated as two more arenas for political payback." He adds that health and environmental policy, "no matter how ideological, needs to rest on sound opinion and valid knowledge" and writes that the private sector could help provide that through "free standing advisory panels." Caplan concludes, "What the public needs is the creation of panels, bodies and committees that do not have to be accountable to whichever party is in power. ... The only way the best science is going to get heard in policy circles is if there are groups and bodies that can speak freely and frankly without having to depend for their existence on the political whim of the ruling party" (Caplan, Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.