Former Surgeon General Carmona Says Bush Administration Blocked Him From Speaking About Certain Issues
Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona on Tuesday in a hearing with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said the Bush administration routinely blocked him from speaking about or issuing reports on certain issues -- including human embryonic stem cell research, abstinence-only sex education, emergency contraception and other sensitive public health topics -- while he was serving in the position, the Washington Post reports. 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.
"Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological or political agenda is often ignored, marginalized or simply buried," Carmona said, adding, "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" (Lee, Washington Post, 7/11).
During his testimony, Carmona said that he initially had little idea how inappropriate the administration's actions were. He said that he consulted six previous surgeons general and they all agreed he experienced more political interference than they had, according to the New York Times (Harris, New York Times, 7/11).
Former Surgeons General David Satcher -- who served under former Presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush from 1998 to 2002 -- and C. Everett Koop -- who served under former President Reagan -- also testified at the hearing and spoke about HIV/AIDS issues (Washington Post, 7/11).
Satcher during the hearing said the Clinton administration would not support federal funding for needle-exchange programs even though federal studies have shown they are effective at reducing the spread of HIV. Satcher added that he traveled nationwide to speak in support of the programs. Koop during the hearing said he and then HHS Secretary Otis Bowen did not speak about their work on an HIV/AIDS report until it was released to the media. "If we had followed protocol and had every word scrutinized by the secretary's secretariat, these reports, because of their nature and plain speaking, would not have seen the light of day," Koop said. Carmona said that he was told not to discuss alternatives to the administration's focus on abstinence-only sex education (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 7/10). He added that he was prevented from discussing research on the efficacy of teaching about condom use as well as abstinence. "There was already a policy in place that did not want to hear the science but wanted to just preach abstinence, which I felt was scientifically inaccurate," Carmona said.
White House spokesperson Tony Fratto said that the administration did not interfere with Carmona's work. "As surgeon general, Dr. Carmona was given the authority and had the obligation to be the leading voice for the health of all Americans," Fratto said, adding, "It's disappointing to us if he failed to use his position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies he thought were in the best interests of the nation." Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called on Congress to take measures to protect the surgeon general from political influence. "We shouldn't allow the surgeon general to be politicized," he said, adding, "It is the doctor to the nation. That person needs to have credibility, independence and to speak about science" (Washington Post, 7/11). Carmona, Koop and Satcher all called for increased independence for the position, as well as changes in the way the surgeon general is chosen. The hearing was one of several Waxman is holding to examine government effectiveness, according to CongressDaily (Edney, CongressDaily, 7/10).
Carmona's testimony comes two days before the Senate is scheduled to hold hearings to confirm the newly appointed surgeon general, James Holsinger (New York Times, 7/11).