Former Surgeon General Says Politics Took Priority

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Richard H. Carmona told a House hearing Tuesday that he believed his task as surgeon general from 2002 to 2006 was to improve "health literacy" using the best medical and scientific data he could collect. But top Bush administration officials, Carmona testified, had other ideas. The following are excerpts from testimony by Carmona -- a former Army Special Forces medic, hospital chief executive and university professor -- before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform:

"The vetting was done by political appointees who were specifically there to be able to spin, if you will, my words in such a way that would be preferable to a political or an ideologically preconceived notion that had nothing to do with science. . . .

"[To write an] emergency preparedness report . . . I brought my colleagues in, as I always do to achieve consensus. . . . I then, as they say, ran it up the flagpole, went to domestic policy at the White House, spoke to HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] officials and I was given lots of different reasons. Well, this might incite, you know, scare the people. . . . I could get no traction whatsoever to move this agenda forward . . .

"I recall during my tenure that from time to time we would receive invitations, sometimes they were called 'mandatory meetings' of quote, unquote political appointees. . . . I went to a couple of those initially, but I recall early on that I recognized that these were really more political pep rallies. . . .

"The issue of global warming came up . . . with senior officials, where they were heralding global warming to be nothing more than -- you know, a liberal cause and had no merit. . . . I remember thinking . . . 'Well, I understand why they want me here now. They want me to discuss the science because obviously they don't understand the science.' And I had this scientific discussion for about a half an hour, and I was never invited back."

"In my first year, clearly I was told a number of times that the president's name wasn't mentioned in the speech and I was told it should be mentioned -- at one point, at least three times on every page. And I said, 'I'm not going to do that.' . . .

"I put in my paperwork to go to this meeting [of the Best Buddies program, a program for people with intellectual disabilities that was founded by Anthony Kennedy Shriver and has long been championed by other members of the Kennedy family]. . . . I was admonished for doing that. . . . 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? . . . I said, 'This is about sick kids. It has nothing to do with who's moving the project.' . . . I took a weekend vacation, I paid for it myself, and I went up there. . . ."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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