CDC House hearing witness Frumkin submits CDC Director Gerberding’s previously censored testimony


At an April 9 House committee hearing, witness Howard Frumkin of the federal Centers for Disease Control submitted the testimony on health effects of climate change that the White House had redacted from CDC Director Julie Gerberding’s Senate testimony in October 2007.  What led the censors at the White House Office of Management and Budget and Council on Environmental Quality to let the testimony go forward this time?  See Details for the Frumkin testimony and our analysis.

This post was drafted by CSW Director Rick Piltz.

See our earlier posts:

White House ‘eviscerated’ Centers for Disease Control testimony on climate change health impacts (October 23, 2007)

The censored testimony of CDC Director Julie Gerberding (October 24, 2007)

Censored Testimony from Centers for Disease Control: Update (October 28, 2007)

American Public Health Association and World Health Organization: Climate change threatens health (April 11, 2008)

Howard Frumkin’s testimony representing CDC was submitted to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, for the committee’s hearing: “Healthy Planet, Health People: Global Warming and Public Health,” April 9, 2007.

Text of written testimony submitted by Howard Frumkin, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Director of National Center for Environmental Health, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

In Dr. Frumkin’s testimony, see pages 3-8, in which he discusses “major anticipated health outcomes,” including:

o Direct effects of heat,
o Health effects related to extreme weather events,
o Air pollution-related health effects,
o Water- and food-borne infectious diseases,
o Vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, and
o Other pathogens sensitive to weather conditions

In addition, Frumkin includes a few paragraphs of discussion of “Climate Change Vulnerability” issues, making the point that vulnerability to the health effects of climate change varies by geographic area and demographic group.

These six pages, in somewhat edited form (perhaps in part to reflect review comments by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and other internal reviewers), cover essentially the same material, with a few (not show-stopping) omissions, that the White House gained notoriety for redacting in their entirety from the draft written testimony that had been prepared by CDC Director Julie Gerberding to be submitted to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for its hearing on this problem in October 2007. 

Text of two versions of Dr. Gerberding’s testimony: pre-censorship and later as submitted.  Pages 2-8 of the draft version contain the text that was removed from the submitted version.

When this egregious political manipulation of CDC testimony was made public last October and provoked a highly critical response on the Hill, in particular from Senate Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA), no one in the administration would tell the truth by identifying the locus of the decision to remove all substantive text from Gerberding’s testimony. Gerberding herself professed a cavalier response to the whole incident, downplaying the fact that, as a leading federal public health official, she was subjected to political censorship of her testimony for the written record on an essential public issue, as though it were of no significance. Behind the scenes I believe she must have been offended by this treatment by the White House, since having to be a good soldier in this case reflected poorly on her appearance of integrity.
John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in response to later Congressional questioning that OSTP had only recommended some text edits to the draft Gerberding testimony on health effects of climate change, not the deletion of the entire contents. From my experience and sources, I believe this is true. However, Marburger claimed that he didn’t know who ordered the deletion of the testimony. Either that claim is false, or it reflects a failure of due diligence on Marburger’s part to learn what is going on inside the administration vis-v-vis testimony on climate change. Which is worse?

Because the Office of Management and Budget runs the interagency review process for clearing draft Congressional communications by administration officials, some people seemed to assume that OMB was the culprit in redacting the Gerberding testimony. This may be the case, but I’m skeptical of that. From my experience working with the Climate Change Science Program, OMB coordinates these reviews as a routine staff-level function. In all the documents I was involved in that had to go through the OMB legislative review process, I never experienced OMB staff intervening so aggressively as, strictly on their own initiative, to remove a full 6-7 pages of issue-oriented text from the testimony of a high-ranking administration official.

My experience was that, on climate science-related communications to the Hill, the OMB clearance would be held up until the White House Council on Environmental Quality had finally given its approval, pursuant to whatever revisions CEQ called for being addressed to their satisfaction.  Congressional interrogators and the media didn’t point the finger directly at CEQ and its Director James Connaughton in the Gerberding case. But when climate science collides with climate policy under this administration, time and again we have seen that CEQ calls the shots on behalf of Bush and Cheney. I expect that was the case with the censored Gerberding testimony.

Any decision by CEQ to call on OMB to redact Gerberding’s testimony would be highly unlikely to appear in the documentary record, at least in a form retrievable via Congressional inquiry or Freedom of Information Act request. Such a demand may well have been conveyed via oral communication with no paper trail at all. Former CEQ Chief of Staff Phil Cooney made careless errors in leaving a paper trail of his global warming disinformation activities. Administration officials have become more secretive about such things.

So, how did Howard Frumkin’s testimony, which incoporates a decent version of the original Gerberding text, survive this OMB-led review gauntlet?  Is it a sign of the lifting of heavy-handed censorship in this final year of the Administration? Was censoring Director Gerberding’s written testimony for a high-profile Senate hearing seen as more necessary than censoring a lower-level official at a lower-profile House hearing? Did the bad publicity generated by the administration’s conspicuous lack of integrity in handling the Gerberding testimony make them wary of doing it again with the latest CDC testimony?  Perhaps, but I believe another factor is likely involved.

I think the White House once again called for cutting text on health effects of climate change out of Frumkin’s testimony, but this time CDC pushed back. Frumkin had been reamed out at a House Science Committee Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee hearing April 1 on CDC’s abysmal record in dealing with FEMA on the issue of health hazards of carcinogenic formaldehyde in the housing trailers provided to displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina. (See our earlier post here.)  At the Science Committee hearing, an appearance was given that Frumkin’s office at CDC had been guilty of scientific malfeasance, retaliatory mistreatment of a truth-telling senior scientist, and a political cover-up. How much more damage to CDC’s reputation for integrity did the agency want to bear at this moment?  Frumkin was the lead author of a peer-reviewed article in the March 2008 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, on the public health response to climate change, that acknowledged that climate change is expected to have “substantial impacts on human health.” So he has expertise in the subject and had an interest in being seen to give substantive testimony un-butchered by White House officials.

In the first paragraph of his written testimony, Frumkin offers the disclaimer: “I recognize that this topic remains controversial and some [of] my testimony may not necessarily reflect broad consensus across the Administration.” In fact, if you read the rest of his testimony, you’ll see that there is nothing in it that would be considered controversial by knowledgeable people in his field. The only controversy is with the global warming disinformation political element in the Administration.

If it is true that the CDC witness gave respectable testimony as a result of CDC pushing back on this political element hard enough to succeed, we commend them. One must wonder how much better informed and thus prepared the US would be for global climatic disruption if we had seen more of this from federal officials for the past seven years.

Other good witnesses presented testimony at the hearing, including:

Jonathan Patz, M.D., M.P.H., Professor and Director of Global Environmental Health, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Georges Benjamin, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.E.P. (Emeritus), Executive Director, American Public Health Association

Mark Jacobson, Ph.D., Director, Atmosphere and Energy Program and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University

Dana Best, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., American Academy of Pediatrics

In addition, the Frumkin testimony, pages 13-14, includes a brief but good section on “Advancing Public Health Prevention and Preparedness for Climate Change,” which support the concept we are developing in the National Climate Change Preparedness Initiative.

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