Democrats Seek Data on Ex-Surgeon General’s Tenure
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Wednesday sent letters to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt asking for documents related to former Surgeon General Richard Carmona's four-year tenure, Reuters reports (Dunham, Reuters, 7/11).
Carmona, a former professor of surgery and public health at the University of Arizona, was nominated by President Bush to serve as surgeon general from 2002 to 2006.
Carmona on Tuesday in a hearing with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said the Bush administration routinely blocked him from speaking out or issuing reports on human embryonic stem cell research, abstinence-only sex education, emergency contraception and other sensitive public health issues while he was serving in the position.
He also said the administration often edited his speeches for politically controversial content and encouraged him to attend internal political meetings. Carmona did not disclose the names of the administration officials who pressured him to support a political agenda over a scientific one. However, he said the officials included assistant HHS secretaries and top political appointees outside the department (California Healthline, 7/11).
Waxman, chair of the House government reform committee, asked for documents related to Carmona's tenure by July 25, and Kennedy, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, asked for documents by July 27 (Reuters, 7/11).
Kennedy's letter and Waxman's letter are available online. Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat to view Waxman's letter.
Several newspapers published editorials in reaction to Carmona's comments. Summaries appear below.
- New York Times: Carmona's testimony "sounds so ham-handedly partisan that it would be laughable if it weren't so damaging to the public's understanding of important public health issues," a Times editorial says. House and Senate oversight committees "must look for ways to protect" the surgeon general from "future political interference," the Times writes, adding that Congress could give the surgeon general's office its own staff and budget and could "ban any effort to censor or delay the surgeon general's reports and speeches" (New York Times, 7/12).
- Philadelphia Inquirer: "What happened to Carmona was a sickening politicization of an appointed post that should be a source of unassailable credibility on public health issues," and it "fits a pattern in the Bush White House of willfully ignoring science when the research clashes with political goals," an Inquirer editorial says. The editorial concludes that Congress should take actions to ensure the surgeon general is "on call for the public, not for a political party" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/12).
- USA Today: Although it does not "speak well of Carmona that he accepted the muzzling" of the Bush administration, his "forthrightness" is "at least timely" because of confirmation hearings scheduled for his nominated successor, James Holsinger. The editorial concludes that despite difficulties in "bucking" a president's policy, "independent leaders" are needed to protect the public's health (USA Today, 7/12).
- Wall Street Journal: Officials of any administration are "expected" to "support the policies of an elected president," and if Carmona "really thinks that the surgeon general should be above politics, 'naive' is not the first adjective that comes to mind," a Journal editorial says. If Carmona "disagreed so profoundly" with Bush's policies, he could have resigned or spoke "up anyway and face[d] the consequences," the editorial says, concluding that either option would have been "more honorable" than his "late hit on the president who appointed him" (Wall Street Journal, 7/12).
Three broadcast programs recently reported or are scheduled to report on issues related to the position of surgeon general. Summaries appear below.
- KCRW's "To the Point": The program on Thursday is scheduled to include a discussion on Holsinger ("To the Point" Web site, 7/12). Additional details about the segment are available online. Audio will be available after the broadcast. A broadcast schedule also is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The program on Wednesday reported on the power and history of the surgeon general position. The segment includes comments from White House Press Secretary Tony Snow; Carmona and fellow former Surgeon Generals C. Everett Koop and David Satcher; Fitzhugh Mullen, a professor of public health at George Washington University; and John Parascandola, a former historian for the U.S. Public Health Service (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/11). Audio of the segment and expanded NPR coverage are available online. Wednesday's program also included a commentary by NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel about political influences on the surgeon general (Koppel, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/11). Audio and a partial transcript of the segment are available online.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The program on Thursday reported on Holsinger's nomination. The segment includes comments from Stephen Wyatt, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health; Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign; and Maria Kemplin, who was a project manager in Holsinger's office when he was chancellor of the University of Kentucky (Silberner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 7/12). Audio and a partial transcript of the segment are available online.