Bush administration stacking the deck on key committees at CDC

The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is playing politics with appointments to key scientific advisory committees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), citizens’ watchdog groups charged today. The groups accuse Secretary Tommy Thompson of replacing respected scientists with industry insiders on influential committees advising on lead poisoning, environmental health, and other issues.

In recent months, the Bush administration has also come under fire for applying ideological litmus tests to nominees for key scientific advisory posts, by quizzing nominees about partisan politics or political issues. Today, the health and environmental groups told Secretary Thompson that the often-undisclosed financial ties of the nominees to those posts and the lack of a written conflict-of-interest policy at CDC runs afoul of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

“CDC has no policies prohibiting or even disclosing conflicts of interest on these important committees, and the Bush administration has ignored some of the minimal safeguards that CDC does have,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. “The danger is that corporate interests will exert undue—and nearly unseen—influence over public-health policy.”

On CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), Secretary Thompson replaced a majority of committee members with people closely tied to energy and chemical interests, apparently ignoring the advice of NCEH’s director or that committee’s chair. Also, several Bush administration appointees to CDC’s Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention are tied to the lead industry or have testified on behalf of the lead industry.

The groups urged him to direct CDC to require advisory committee members to disclose possible conflicts of interest and to post those disclosures on CDC’s web site. The groups also want CDC to adopt uniform policies that prevent undue influence from special interests. Those policies, say the groups, should disqualify those who receive honoraria, grants, consulting fees, or other compensation from industries affected by the committee’s deliberations.

Joining CSPI on the letter to Secretary Thompson are the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning; Center for Health, Environment, and Justice; Consumer Federation of America; Natural Resources Defense Council; OMB Watch; Physicians for Social Responsibility; Public Citizen; U.S. Public Interest Research Group; Working Group on Community Right-to-Know; and World Wildlife Fund.