Oversight Hearing on the Office of the Surgeon General

July 10, 2007
The Oversight Committee is currently holding a hearing, "The Surgeon General's Vital Mission: Challenges for the Future." The hearing is focusing on the importance of the Surgeon General's Office, the need to preserve the Surgeon General's independence, and recent limitations on the Surgeon General's ability to carry out its public health education mission. Richard Carmona, who resigned as Surgeon General in 2006, will testify about what he viewed as political and partisan pressure.

Watch the hearing live >>

Chairman Henry Waxman gives opening remarks:

Chairman Waxman:

"What we will learn today is that this essential part of our government is in crisis. On key public health issues, the Surgeon General has been muzzled."

[Full Statement]

Reagan Administration Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D., Sc.D. gives opening testimony on President Reagan's willingness to protect Koop's independence and the erosion of those protections currently:

C. Everett Koop:

"If I had been impeded in my duties, as some of my successors were, here are some of the things that would never have happened: eight reports to Congress on smoking on health might not have been published; the knowledge of the addiction of tobacco because of its nicotine content might have been suppressed; we might have still had smoking on airplanes; changes in Title 5 of the Social Security Act entitling special needs children to comprehensive, family-centered community based care; assurance during the Tylenol scare would have been missing, leading to panic and possibly market upheaval... clearly the Surgeon General must be free to serve the American people without political interference."

Richard Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., who resigned as Surgeon General in 2006, gives opening testimony about what he viewed as political and partisan pressure from the Bush Administration:

Richard Carmona:

"During my first year as Surgeon General I was still quite politically naive in the ways of the Beltway. As I witnessed partisanship and political manipulation I was astounded but also unsure of what I was witnessing. I had no reference point. I asked myself whether this was just happening to me as a new Surgeon General, or whether this was the norm for all Surgeon Generals."

Chairman Waxman questions Richard Carmona about various issues in which the Bush Administration forced a political agenda on his office and blocked his input on matters of scientific information:

Richard Carmona:

"Much of the discussion was being driven by theology, ideology, pre-conceived beliefs that were scientifically incorrect. So I thought this is a perfect example of the Surgeon General being able to step forward, educate the American public as well as elected and appointed officials so that we can have, if you will, informed consent on an issue to the American public to make better decisions. I was blocked at every turn. I was told the decision had already been made. Stand down, don't talk about it. In speeches where initially that information was put in speeches it was removed from my speeches..."

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton questions Richard Carmona on various reports that were censored or quashed, in particular one on Mental Health Preparedness:

Richard Carmona:

"I got the best scientists in the world together, we had a discussion, everybody agreed this was a huge void in our society, that we needed to move this forward. So I generated the evidence base to support such a report moving forward to the American public. I then went and brought in other agencies. I brought in one of our sister agencies who had a political appointee who basically went to HHS, went to the White House and complained vehemently that this was not my responsibility, that he was in charge of mental health. In fact I was admonished by this gentleman, because he said 'you don't get it,' he said 'you don't write anything unless we approve it...'"