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Acting Surgeon General Named

Steven Galson to Take Over Role as 'Nation's Doctor'
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 24, 2007 -- A top FDA official has been named acting surgeon general while the Senate continues to stall on President Bush’s pick to permanently hold the office.

The FDA announced late Friday that Steven Galson, MD, chief of the agency’s drug regulation division, would take up the post until they find a replacement.

The appointment comes as the Senate is considering James W. Holsinger, MD, a Kentucky physician and bureaucrat, to be the next surgeon general. The nomination is crawling through the Senate in part because of some Democrats’ displeasure with Holsinger’s writings from the early 1990s suggesting that homosexual behavior is against nature.

Lawmakers are also questioning Holsinger’s willingness to remain politically independent from the White House.

The surgeon general is often called the “nation’s doctor.” Though the role is largely symbolic, the surgeon general is seen as the federal government’s most important voice for personal and public health advice.

Political Influence

The office has been vacant for nearly 14 months. The last surgeon general, Richard Carmona, MD, who resigned in July 2006, stunned lawmakers this July when he testified that he was repeatedly pressured by Bush administration officials to alter his health advice to the nation.

Carmona said he was required to “water down health advice to the nation and at one point was ordered to mention President Bush repeatedly in speeches.

"Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological, or political agenda is often ignored, marginalized, or simply buried," Carmona said at the hearing.

Christina Pearson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, says Galson was appointed to replace the current acting surgeon general, Rear Admiral Kenneth Moritsugu, MD, and that the appointment was not related to Holsinger’s nomination.

“It doesn’t change our commitment to working toward his confirmation,” she says.

Galson: Not ‘Acting’

Galson tells WebMD that he plans to act aggressively as acting surgeon general.

“In my mind the ‘acting’ is off the title. I am going to be the surgeon general and actively engage in policy and education,” he says.

He says his agenda is not yet formulated but that childhood obesity is already a top priority.

Galson says political considerations were not part of discussions with Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt. He says he has not spoken with Bush.

“I am very, very confident after talking about this with the secretary that there is not going to be a problem here,” he says.

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