Reps. Waxman, Slaughter Say Government Forced 28 CDC Researchers Out of XV International AIDS Conference
Democratic lawmakers on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson claiming that the department forced 28 CDC researchers off the list of agency employees scheduled to attend next month's XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Cox/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said in the letter, "By grounding these experts, you are keeping them from learning from their peers across the world, and you are depriving the world of the scientific leadership of the United States." The lawmakers added that the decision would deprive the conference of information on HIV prevention, drug resistance monitoring and the reduction of bacterial co-infection among HIV-positive people, Cox/Journal-Constitution reports. A spokesperson for Thompson said that CDC "overbooked the conference" based on new travel guidelines for HHS employees, according to Cox/Journal-Constitution (Nesmith, Cox/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/25). Thompson in March announced that the government plans to spend $500,000 to send 50 people to the conference, down from $3.6 million the government spent to send 236 people to the 2002 IAC in Barcelona, Spain. Half of the $500,000 will be spent to send about 80 African scientists to the conference, and the remaining money will be used to send 20 other scientists each from NIH and CDC and 10 HHS staff members (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/10). Waxman and Slaughter in the letter said that HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce had denied that the cuts were an "act of retribution" by Thompson, whose speech at the Barcelona conference was interrupted by protestors, Cox/Journal-Constitution reports.
A spokesperson for Waxman released a list of 40 papers that have been withdrawn from the conference, 37 of which listed CDC researchers as authors, Cox/Journal-Constitution reports. Pierce said that CDC has been "sending hundreds of people to conferences all over the world at a cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayers. We are cutting back on that, and this is just another conference in that process." Pierce said that CDC was informed of its 20-person limit for the 2004 AIDS conference "last year," according to Cox/Journal-Constitution. He added that the United States "will be well-represented at this meeting," saying that National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention Deputy Director Ronald Valdiserri -- who will be in attendance -- "can hold their own with anybody in the world." In addition, Pierce said that telephone conference calls, e-mails and other means of communication could be used to distribute HIV/AIDS information throughout the world, according to Cox/Journal-Constitution. A CDC spokesperson on Thursday had no comment on the issue, according to Cox/Journal-Constitution (Cox/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/25).