Administration Stacks Scientific Advisory Panels
The Bush administration has been screening nominees for federal scientific advisory committees based on their political views rather than their scientific qualifications. Inevitably, as the list below documents, this has meant tilting committees -- whose findings frequently form the basis for regulation -- in favor of corporate interests and conservative ideologues.If you know of any examples we are missing, please e-mail our Regulatory Policy staff
CDC Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning
Michael Wetzman, pediatrician in chief at Rochester General Hospital and author of numerous publications on lead poisoning, was not reappointed to the committee as expected when his term recently expired, and the nominations of two other accomplished doctors with expertise in lead poisoning were also rebuffed by agency higher-ups. Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put forth four nominees who are closely allied with the lead industry:
- William Banner, professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma, who has served as an expert witness for the lead industry, downplaying the effects of lead on children;
- Joyce Tsuji, principle scientist at Exponent, whose corporate clients include ASARCO, which is now involved in a lead dispute with EPA, Dow Chemical, and Dupont (Tsuji told the
Bureau of National Affairs she has since withdrawn her nomination due to scheduling conflicts);
CDC National Center for Environmental Health Advisory Panel
The administration put 15 new members on an 18-person panel advising the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. In particular, the new members include Dennis Paustenbach, who conducts paid risk assessment for industry and testified on behalf of Pacific Gas & Electric, which was ultimately found guilty of poisoning drinking water, in the trial that made Erin Brockovich famous; Roger McClellan, the former director of the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology; and Becky Norton Dunlop, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation and former head of Virginia’s natural resources department, where she aggressively fought against environmental protection. The committee advises the National Center for Environmental Health on a wide range of public health issues, and in the past has examined the health effects of low-level exposures to environmental chemicals.
Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently disbanded this committee that had recommended regulation of genetic testing, which reads DNA to suggest a person’s chances of getting a disease. Currently, companies are marketing tests for genes, frequently through the Internet, even where there is no established link to disease, needlessly worrying consumers and conning them out of their money. As a result of the committee’s recommendations, FDA initiated a rulemaking during the Clinton administration to oversee the marketing of such testing. However, this rulemaking has now been abandoned, along with the committee.
HHS Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections (SACHRP)
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently scrapped a committee that had recommended new protections for human research subjects by tightening up conflict-of-interest rules and putting in place new restrictions on research involving the mentally ill -- recommendations that drew scorn from the pharmaceutical industry. Perhaps the death knell came when the committee failed to support the administration’s effort to include fetuses under a regulation involving research on newborns, angering religious conservatives.
The committee has been reincarnated and the new SACHRP charter makes clear that fetuses and embryos are to be treated as human research subjects. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson recently announced the 11 members of the new committee, which includes head researchers from several public and private research institutions. Jonathan Moreno, director of the University of Virginia Center for Biomedical Ethics and member of the Clinton-appointed committee, was appointed by Thompson but declined to join the committee over concerns about the absence of a patient advocate on the panel. “You can say all heads of research are patient advocates, but institutional roles do mean something and when it comes time to take a position on research protections the institution or business that you represent makes a difference,” Moreno told the Washington Post.
Once Moreno declined to join the committee, the administration appointed Susan Weiner, president and founder of Children’s Cause, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to accelerating the discovery and access to innovative, safer, and more effective treatments for childhood cancer through education and advocacy.”
OSHA's National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics
The National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics (NACE) advises the assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health on ergonomic guidelines, research, outreach and assistance. NACE will meet two to four times annually for two years to help with the agency’s “four-pronged” ergonomics program: industry guidelines, research, outreach and enforcement.
This newly formed committee includes seven management representatives and just two union safety and health experts. It is the first time in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 32-year history that an advisory committee does not include an equal number of management and union representatives.
Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee
David Hager, an obstetrician/gynecologist who strongly opposes abortions, was asked to serve on the FDA panel that reviews reproductive health drugs. Haden recommends specific Scripture readings and prayers for such ailments as headaches and premenstrual syndrome,
according to Time Magazine.
At least two nominees proposed by FDA staff were rejected by political higher ups: Donald R. Mattison, former dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, and Michael F. Greene, director of maternal-fetal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Safety and Occupational Health Study Section
Three temporary members who were prominent experts in ergonomics and repetitive-motion injuries were removed from the NIOSH study section that evaluates grants for the study of workplace injuries.
When Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tommy Thompson announced, upon taking office, his intent to freeze nominations and review the membership of HHS advisory panels and committees, insiders believed that study sections, which make determinations on the scientific merit of proposed research projects, would be left untouched. Once he completed his review, however, Thompson rejected three staff nominees without so much as an explanation.
Dr. Laura Purnett, a nominee from the University of Massachusetts, was rejected, presumably because of her previous public support of a workplace ergonomics standard. Catherine Heaney, an associate professor of public health at Ohio State University, was rejected, likely because her most recent research focused on ergonomics. Manuel Gomez, director of scientific affairs at the American Industrial Hygiene Association, was also rejected.
Army Science Board
The White House Liaison Office in the Office of the Secretary of Defense disapproved several nominees to the Army Science Board after uncovering their campaign contributions through Opensecrets.org, according to Science Magazine. Previously, the nominees had served as consultants to the board.
Science Magazine reported that a member of the ASB staff told William E. Howard III that his nomination was rejected because he had contributed to the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Howard never made such a contribution, but someone with the same name, different middle initial (William S. Howard), had contributed $1,000. Howard tried to clear things up, but ASB would not reconsider.
National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse
William R. Miller, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, was asked to serve on the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse, which guides funding and policy decisions at a unit of the National Institutes of Health. According to a
Dec. 24 Los Angeles Times article, someone from HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson’s office then called and asked Miller about his views on faith-based initiatives, needle exchange programs, the death penalty for drug kingpins and abortion, keeping a tally of whether he agreed with the views of the White House. The caller asked whether Miller had voted for Bush. When Miller said he had not, the caller asked him to explain. Miller felt he did not give enough right answers, and he was not appointed to the panel.
Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS
Christian conservative, Jerry Thacker, who has referred to AIDS as the “gay plague,” and referred to homosexuality as a “deathstyle,” was chosen to serve on the presidential AIDS Advisory Council. News of Thacker's appointment caused much controversy and Thacker eventually withdrew his name from consideration.
National Institutes of Health Muscular Dystrophy Research Coordinating Committee
According to Science Magazine, a staffer from the Office of White House Liaison, Health and Human Services, vetted a staff nominee for the committee by asking about her views on various Bush administration policies, none of them related to the work of the committee, including the president's embryonic stem cell policy.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee
The administration recently appointed Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., M.D., the founder and president of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas, which is against sex-ed programs, needle exchange, condoms, and legal abortion, and Shepherd Smith, the president and founder of Institute for Youth Development, a group that sponsors abstinence education forums, in Sterling, Va. Other appointees include executives from General Motors and General Electric Medical System. “The committee advises the CDC director on policy issues and broad strategies for promoting health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury and disability,” according to a CDC press release.
Industry Sector Advisory Committee for Chemicals and Allied Products
Despite a legal settlement that required inclusion of an environmental representative on the panel, the Bush administration rejected the application of Greenpeace’s Rick Hind,
and instead selected Brian Mannix, a vocal opponent of regulation and a researcher at the conservative Mercatus Center.
Mannix has strong ties to industry and the conservative policy community in Washington. Previously, he served as director of science and technology studies for the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, an industry-sponsored consulting and lobbying group.