The Bush administration has begun a broad restructuring of the more than 250 scientific advisory committees that provide Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson with advice on health issues, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, The Washington Post reports. The Administration is reportedly eliminating committees that provide scientific guidance counter to Bush's views and is replacing members of other committees with handpicked choices that will back the president's health policies.
Some key changes already made were the elimination of the Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing, which was helping the Food and Drug Administration develop guidelines for the eventual sale of at-home genetic tests, and the disbanding of the National Human Research Protections Advisory Committee, a group created by former president Bill Clinton that pushed for greater protections for human participants in clinical drug and vaccine trials, including HIV/AIDS studies. That committee reportedly angered pharmaceutical companies by calling for stronger safeguards for trial participants and upset religious groups that believed the scope of the committee should have been expanded to include fetuses.
The Administration also recently replaced 15 of the 18 members of the Advisory Committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health with handpicked candidates. Many of the new members on the committee, which is charged with assessing the health risks of low-level exposure to environmental chemicals, come directly from the chemical industry, including a California scientist who helped defend Pacific Gas and Electric in the environmental lawsuit highlighted in the film Erin Brockovich. Numerous other committee changes are planned for the coming weeks, according to HHS sources.
The Post reports that the committee overhaul is "rattling" some HHS staff members, who say such widespread ideological changes at the agency haven't been seen since the beginning of the Reagan administration in 1981. But HHS spokesman William Pierce said the changes are not out of the ordinary. "No one should be surprised when an administration makes changes like this," he said. "I don't think there is anything going on here that has not gone on with each and every administration since George Washington."