Ex-Surgeon General Says Administration Interfered Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona — backed by two former surgeons general — told a House Committee on Tuesday that the Bush administration's political interference in his activities badly hindered his ability to do his job.
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Ex-Surgeon General Says Administration Interfered

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Ex-Surgeon General Says Administration Interfered

Ex-Surgeon General Says Administration Interfered

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For years, the Bush administration has been accused of playing politics with science. But today, those charges came from one of the administration's own appointees, former Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

NPR's Julie Rovner has our story.

JULIE ROVNER: The hearing before the House Government Reform Committee actually featured three former surgeons general - Carmona; David Satcher, who served under President Bill Clinton; and C. Everett Koop, who served under President Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush. Koop and Satcher each faced challenges. Koop fought the Reagan administration over his work on the AIDS epidemic, while Satcher fought the Clinton administration over his support for needle exchange programs to prevent the spread of AIDS and HIV.

But all three agreed that none faced the sorts of political challenges that confronted Carmona, who finished his four-year term last year. He testified that the very position of surgeon general is in grave danger.

Dr. RICHARD CARMONA (Former Surgeon General): The reality is that the nation's doctor has been marginalized and relegated to a position with no independent budget and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas.

ROVNER: Throughout his term, Carmona said, his speeches were edited and talking points provided by political appointees. He couldn't even set his own policy agenda. When he wanted to launch a public education campaign on the science of stem cell research, he was told no.

Dr. CARMONA: I was blocked at every turn. I was told the decision had already been made. Stand down. Don't talk about it.

ROVNER: Carmona said his travel was also carefully monitored. After he issued a report on the health of those with disabilities, he was invited to speak to a group affiliated with the Special Olympics.

Dr. CARMONA: So I put in my paperwork to go to this meeting where I was going to give the keynote address and actually ride a bike with a disabled child and hope to bring some light to this problem in our nation. And I was admonished for doing that. And the reason I was admonished for doing that was that unfortunately, I was told that I would be helping a politically prominent family who is - this is one of their endeavors. And why would I want to help those people? And I said this is about sick kids. It has nothing to do with who's moving the project.

ROVNER: The name of that politically prominent family is Kennedy. Carmona spent most of his last year unsuccessfully trying to issue a report he and his staff had written on global health.

Dr. CARMONA: And there was no nebulousness, this thing. I was told this will be a political document or you're not going to release it. And I refused to release it because I would not put the political rhetoric into that document that they wanted, because it would tarnish the Office of the Surgeon General when our colleagues saw us taking a political stand.

ROVNER: Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, the committee's senior Republican, said he was sympathetic to Carmona's complaints, but only to a point.

Representative TOM DAVIS (Republican, Virginia; Member, House Committee on Government Reforms): I'm not sure what the boundaries are for appointed political officials who sometimes have opinions different from the elected administration. It's tough trying to define where you'd be a team player and where you feel strong enough to speak out with your positions. And I think you try to balance that every day, but we have politicians who run the government, not scientists.

ROVNER: The Department of Health and Human Services issued a written statement disagreeing with Carmona's testimony. It cited several reports Carmona did issue, such as the one on disabilities and another on bone health. The statement also said Carmona was, quote, "given ample opportunity to communicate his views to the American people, and he routinely did so in hundreds of appearances before the public, the media and Congress."

Meanwhile, President Bush's nominee to succeed Carmona, James Holsinger, goes before a Senate committee for his confirmation hearing on Thursday.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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