As director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gerberding has considerable expertise. Sending her comments to the Office of Management and Budget was considered so perfunctory that her office simultaneously shared the document with public health groups.
But perfunctory is not the way OMB, which is staffed and run by true-believing political appointees, saw things. It radically edited Gerberding's testimony, removing the sections about how climate change could influence the spread of disease, the Associated Press reported.
The circulated text noted that "scientific evidence supports the view that the Earth's climate is changing," yet "the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed. The CDC considers climate change to be a serious public health concern."
The White House office excised the paragraph containing those passages before her Senate appearance Oct. 23. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino explained that the draft was edited because officials did not believe it matched scientific conclusions in a report prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Let's set aside for a moment the implausible notion that White House political appointees are better informed about the science in reports by the IPCC - the U.N.-chartered scientific group that shares this year's Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore - than Gerberding and her staff are.
The fact is that for well over a decade, the IPCC has been sounding the alarm on climate change, and the Bush administration routinely has ignored, downplayed and denied its conclusions.
Ms. Perino also insisted that the White House hadn't "watered down" Gerberding's testimony. Past practice suggests otherwise.
In 2003, Philip Cooney, who then headed the Council on Environmental Quality in the Bush White House, made more than 300 changes to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on global warming. Cooney's changes exaggerated supposed uncertainties about global warming and removed many references to the phenomenon entirely. Prior to his White House service, Cooney had been a lobbyist for the energy industry. After leaving the White House, he became a lobbyist for the energy industry again.
On Oct. 23, OMB spokesman Sean Kevelighan said the OMB reviews documents and testimony to see whether they "line up well with the national priorities of the administration." Testifying before Congress in March, Cooney said his job was to "align" scientific reports with Bush administration policy.
We have learned at great cost over the past seven years that aligning documents with administration policy is not the same as aligning them with reality. Sometimes that has meant "editing" the science in reports and testimony. Sometimes it has involved trying to muzzle world-renowned scientists, such as NASA climate expert James Hansen. And sometimes, as with the war in Iraq, the administration's efforts to mold truth to match its policies have led to tragedy.
A Bush official once bragged to a reporter that the administration had the power to create its own reality. That boast has been proved wrong time and again over the last seven years. The ham-handed attempt to stifle Gerberding is just the latest example.
Reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.