Newsflash: Executive Branch Appointees Continue to Politicize Things That They Shouldn't

29 July 2007

The Surgeon General of the United States is entrusted with the job of educating the American people on issues such as disease prevention and public health. The Surgeon General is not meant to be simply a walking advertisement for the President's current social policies, right or wrong. Rather, he is meant to identify public health concerns and highlight them so that the public and the government can properly adjust their priorities and tackle the important issues.

To that end, the Surgeon General recently commissioned a report by a panel of experts about global health concerns.

"In 65 pages, the report charts trends in infectious and chronic disease; reviews efforts to curb AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria; calls for the careful monitoring of public health to safeguard against bioterrorism; and explains the importance of proper nutrition, childhood immunizations and clean air and water, among other topics. Its underlying message is that disease and suffering do not respect political boundaries in an era of globalization and mass population movements."

The report "received largely positive reviews from global health experts both inside and outside the government, prompting wide optimism that the report would be publicly released that year."

However, George H. W. Bush's godson, William R. Steiger (pictured left), who is an expert in Latin American history rather than public health, blocked that report's release.

In 2001, George W. Bush had appointed Steiger to head the Office of Global Health Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services, despite the fact that Steiger has neither a medical degree, nor a public health degree. According to Surgeon General Carmona, Steiger blocked the report's release due to the fact that it did not sufficiently promote the administration's accomplishments. Steiger told Surgeon General Carmona, through a senior official, that "this will be a political document, or it will not be released."

Of course, this is not the first time Surgeon General Carmona experienced political interference with his job. A few years ago, Carmona was also told not to speak at a Special Olympics event, due simply to the fact that the Kennedy family also supported the event. A senior official (who Carmona did not name) reportedly asked, "Why would you help those people?"

Nor is this the only office in which executive branch appointees have politicized things that they shouldn't have. The removal of U.S. Attorneys (involving an appointee who graduated from the lowest ranked law school in the country) to make way for "loyal Bushies" such as Karl Rove's former aide is just one example.

In 2006, 24 year-old college dropout and former George W. Bush campaigner George Deutsch, entrusted as a NASA press officer, attempted to muzzle leading NASA climatologist James Hansen from speaking to the media about climate change. Deutsch also told a NASA website designer to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, calling it merely an "opinion." Revealing exactly why this non-scientist had such strong opinions on the scientific topic, Deutsch said that "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

In 2002, an American Petroleum Institute lobbyist elevated to the position of White House Chief of Staff altered an EPA report about climate change in such a severe and misleading way that the EPA chose to omit the section altogether rather than release such a misleading scientific assessment (the EPA memo regarding this affair can be found here). Senior associate Rick Piltz resigned over the affair, stating that the non-scientist chief of staff Philip Cooney altered the documents to "create an enhanced sense of scientific uncertainty about climate change and its implications."

Oh yeah, and the administration's current nominee for the next Surgeon General previously wrote a paper on the dangers of "anal eroticism" and has founded a church that employs a conversion therapy program aimed at turning homosexuals into heterosexuals.

UPDATE: A copy of the report itself can be found here.

UPDATE #2: Chairman Waxman reviews the documents here.

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