Politics and Competence: Competing Priorities New revelations about the surgeon general's role in the Bush administration highlight the perils of putting politics ahead of competence.
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Politics and Competence: Competing Priorities

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Politics and Competence: Competing Priorities

Politics and Competence: Competing Priorities

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TED KOPPEL: Additional evidence that the Bush administration has a tendency to prefer political loyalty to independent competence.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel.

KOPPEL: During his term as a surgeon general, Richard Carmona wanted to investigate the mental health consequences for the nation in the wake of another major terrorist attack. Now, that seems like an eminently sensible idea. Dr. Carmona was told, however, not to bother.

He also suggested that his department prepare a report on the mental and physical health of prison inmates. The point being that this is a very large population - over two million, as a matter of fact - and a disproportionately high percentage of inmates are testing HIV positive; and an even higher percentage suffer from emotional problems.

So here's a high-risk population that keeps moving in and out of the larger civilian community. Is that a potential of serious health consequences? You would think so.

The Bush administration also muzzled him on the subjects of stem cell research, second-hand smoke and sex education among other significant issues.

On the proactive side, Dr. Carmona was encouraged to make three references per page to President Bush in his public speeches. Just a wild guess, but I'm assuming that something along the lines of, President Bush and I don't agree on this but - wouldn't have counted.

If all of that sounds familiar, it should. It happened when political ideologues at appointed to high office at the Pentagon, overruled senior career officers who argued for a much larger invasion force against Iraq. It happened after the invasion when inexperienced young political appointees were put in positions of extraordinary responsibility inside Baghdad's Green Zone. It happened when political appointees of the Justice Department took a hand in the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

Each time political appointees have been permitted, indeed encouraged, to skew policies in directions that serve ideology over national interest. The phenomenon is not entirely unknown in Washington; but these folks have taken it to a new level.

After noting that the surgeon general is and I'm quoting here, "the leading voice for the health of all Americans," the White House added, "it is disappointing to us if Dr. Carmona failed to use this position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies he thought were in the best interests of the nation," end quote.

Well, he does have a point: he could have invoked the president's name four times a page.

This is Ted Koppel.

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