Transcript of House Floor Debate on Durbin Amendment for Integrity in the Vetting of Scientific Advisory Committees

During the debate on the Senate legislation that funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) offered an amendment that seeks to ensure that candidates for scientific advisory committees are not vetted for either their voting history or political beliefs, but for their scientific expertise.

Departments Of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006 -- (Senate - October 26, 2005)

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, in the absence of any Senator seeking recognition, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, we have a request from Senator DeMint for 15 minutes of morning business. This would be a good time to accommodate that request.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. SPECTER. I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

AMENDMENT NO. 2228

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to set aside the pending amendment and call up amendment No. 2228 already filed at the desk.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The clerk will report.

The legislative clerk read as follows:

The Senator from Illinois [Mr. DURBIN], for himself, Mr. Lautenberg, Mr. Feingold, Mr. Bingaman, and Mr. Kennedy, proposes an amendment numbered 2228.

Mr. DURBIN. I ask unanimous consent that reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:

(Purpose: To ensure the scientific integrity of Federally-funded scientific advisory committees and their findings)
At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __. (a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to request that a candidate for appointment to a Federal scientific advisory committee disclose the political affiliation or voting history of the candidate or the position that the candidate holds with respect to political issues not directly related to and necessary for the work of the committee involved.

(b) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to disseminate scientific information that is deliberately false or misleading.

Mr. DURBIN. I ask unanimous consent that Senators LAUTENBERG, FEINGOLD, BINGAMAN, and KENNEDY be added as cosponsors.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, all of us benefit from scientific information and advice provided by many Federal agencies. When we go to the Centers for Disease Control Web site to read about infectious disease threats or turn to the National Cancer Institute to learn about the latest in cancer treatment, we have confidence that we are being provided with honest, accurate, and objective information. We rely on scientists and medical experts serving the National Institutes of Health to make wise decisions based on real science, not politics, to ensure that our investments in medical research will improve the health of Americans for generations to come.

The amendment I offer seeks to ensure that the American people will continue to benefit from the best possible scientific advice and information from the Government's scientific advisers and from the Federal agencies themselves. First, the amendment prohibits the use of Federal funds to ask candidates for appointment to scientific advisory committees to disclose their voting history, their political affiliation, or their opinions on unrelated political topics. When the Federal Government seeks expert medical and technical advice, it should look for the very best experts. It should not limit itself to only those experts who voted for a particular political candidate or who agree with any President's policies or who support the death penalty. That is not how we, in our personal lives, would go about choosing a doctor. It should not be the way our Government seeks out expert scientific advice.

It appears this is exactly what has happened in a number of instances. In the year 2002, Dr. William Miller, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of New Mexico, was denied a position on the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse after he admitted that he had not voted for the President. Dr. Miller was also asked for his views on abortion rights and the death penalty. This was for an appointment to the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse.

In March 2004, the White House screened a nominee to the Arctic Research Commission, an advisory panel on issues that include Arctic drilling. According to the candidate, Dr. Sharon Smith, a professor of marine ecology at the University of Miami:

The first and only question was, "do you support the President?"

Following incidents such as these, the National Academies of Science convened a committee to study how the Government should select its science advisers. Earlier this year it issued a report that said candidates for scientific advisory positions should find it inappropriate to be asked to provide nonrelevant information such as their voting record, political party affiliation, or their position on particular policies. The report goes on to compare these types of questions to asking candidates about their hair color or their height.

My amendment would prohibit the use of Federal funds to ask these inappropriate political questions of medical and scientific experts. My amendment also prohibits the use of funds to disseminate scientific information that is false or misleading. This ensures that Americans can continue to have full confidence and trust that scientific information provided by the Federal Government is honest, accurate, and objective.

There is reason to be concerned. In one notorious incident, the key findings section of a 2003 report on health care disparities was rewritten and edited to leave out conclusions about the seriousness and pervasiveness of racial and ethnic disparities in health care. In fact, the word ``disparity' itself was edited out. The word appears 30 times in the original draft, only twice in the edited version.

Joseph Betancourt, a Harvard professor who served on two Institute of Medicine panels on inequity in health care, said: "I admire the Administration's ability to look at the positive, but it shouldn't come at the expense of the truth."

Eventually, the Department of Health and Human Services admitted it made a mistake and agreed to release the original, more honest version. This kind of incident should not happen again. My amendment prohibits the use of funds to disseminate scientific information that is deliberately false or misleading. This amendment makes sure that all of us can continue to have full faith and confidence in the scientific information that is being provided by our Federal Government.

I urge my colleagues to support scientific integrity in Federal agencies by voting for the amendment.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.