By H. Josef Hebert
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Testimony that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned to give yesterday to a Senate committee about the impact of climate change on health was significantly edited by the White House, according to two sources familiar with the documents.
Specific scientific references to potential health risks were removed after Julie L. Gerberding submitted a draft of her prepared remarks to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review.
Instead, Gerberding's prepared testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee included few details on what effects climate change could have on the spread of disease. Only during questioning did the director of the government's premier disease-monitoring agency describe any specific diseases likely to be affected, again without elaboration.
A CDC official familiar with both versions said Gerberding's draft "was eviscerated," cut from 14 pages to four. The version presented to the Senate committee consisted of six pages.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the review process, said that while it is customary for testimony to be changed in a White House review, these changes were particularly "heavy-handed."
CDC spokesman Tom Skinner sought to play down the White House changes. He called Gerberding's appearance before the Senate panel "very productive" and said she addressed the issues she wanted to during her remarks and when questioned by the senators.
"What needed to be said, as far we're concerned, was said," Skinner said from Atlanta, where the CDC is based. "She certainly communicated with the committee everything she felt was critical to help them appreciate and understand all the issues surrounding climate change and its potential impact on public health."
The OMB had no comment on Gerberding's testimony. Gerberding could not be reached for comment late yesterday.
"We generally don't speculate and comment on anything until it is the final product," said OMB spokesman Sean Kevelighan. He added that OMB reviews take into consideration "whether they . . . line up well with the national priorities of the administration."
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, said in a statement last night that the Bush administration "should immediately release Dr. Gerberding's full, uncut statement, because the public has a right to know all the facts about the serious threats posed by global warming."
The Bush administration has been accused by government scientists of pressuring them to emphasize the uncertainties of global warming. Earlier this year, climate scientists complained to a House committee that the administration had sought frequently to manage or influence their statements and public appearances.
The White House in the past has said it has sought only to provide a balanced view of the climate issue.
The CDC is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, and its congressional testimony, as is normal with all agencies, is routinely reviewed by OMB.
But Gerberding was said by the CDC officials to have been surprised by the extensive changes.
The deletions directed by the White House included details on how many people might be adversely affected because of increased warming and the scientific basis for some of the CDC's analysis on what kinds of diseases might be spread in a warmer climate and rising sea levels, according to one official who had seen the original version.