Acting Surgeon General Named

Steven Galson to Take Over Role as 'Nation's Doctor'

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 17, 2007

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

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

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

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

The surgeon general is often called the “nation’s doctor.” Though the roleis largely symbolic, the surgeon general is seen as the federal government’smost 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 Julywhen he testified that he was repeatedly pressured by Bush administrationofficials to alter his health advice to the nation.

Carmona said he was required to “water down health advice to the nation andat 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 simplyburied," Carmona said at the hearing.

Christina Pearson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and HumanServices, says Galson was appointed to replace the current acting surgeongeneral, Rear Admiral Kenneth Moritsugu, MD, and that the appointment was notrelated to Holsinger’s nomination.

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

Galson: Not ‘Acting’

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

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

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

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

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

Show Sources

SOURCES: News release, FDA. Christina Pearson, acting assistant secretary for public affairs, Department of Health and Human Services. Steven Galson, MD, director, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

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