Legislation To Guard Surgeon General From Political Interference

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Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Thursday said he plans to introduce legislation that would aim to protect the Office of the Surgeon General from political interference, CQ HealthBeat reports (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 7/13).

Waxman's move comes after 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 out or issuing reports on human embryonic stem cell research, abstinence-only sex education, emergency contraception and other sensitive public health issues.

Carmona 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.

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Waxman, chair of the House government reform committee, and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, on Wednesday sent letters to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt asking for documents related to Carmona's four-year tenure. Waxman asked for the documents related to Carmona's tenure by July 25, and Kennedy asked for documents by July 27 (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/12).

Waxman said he will confer with other lawmakers and outside experts who might support providing more protection to the surgeon general's office. "What we learned at the hearing is that the Office of the Surgeon General is in crisis," Waxman in a statement said, adding, "Political interference is compromising the independence of the office. On key public health issues, the surgeon general has been muzzled. This problem will not solve itself."

HHS in a statement said, "This administration gave Dr. Carmona 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 during his four years as surgeon general" (CQ HealthBeat, 7/13).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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