Advocates Sandbag White House Appointment

Several breast cancer advocacy groups appear to have won their battle to keep a controversial women's health advocate out of the White House. On Sunday, psychiatrist Susan Blumenthal--until recently director of the Office of Women's Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)--sent a letter declining a job as a presidential adviser, suggesting that the "disagreements" in which she is involved could detract from more important issues.

Blumenthal was tapped last month to become President Clinton's "senior adviser" on women's health (Science, 10 October, p. 227). But the appointment met with fervent opposition from advocacy groups led by the National Breast Cancer Coalition, which have long been at odds with Blumenthal. They claim she hurt breast cancer research by diverting money to activities run by her HHS office, including conferences and educational initiatives. The Chronicle of Higher Education has also related that the HHS inspector-general is looking into allegations that Blumenthal sought to take credit for work done by independent researchers under a government contract. Blumenthal has dismissed criticisms of her behavior as "politically motivated" and stemming from a "personal feud."

The first public sign that the advocacy groups might have sabotaged Blumenthal's appointment came on 3 November, when she didn't show up to start her new job. The White House said she was taking a 2-week vacation. Then, in a 9 November letter, Blumenthal wrote Clinton, a personal friend to her and her husband, Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), saying she had "decided to decline your kind offer," according to The Washington Post. Blumenthal said she hoped that as a result, "the focus on disagreements will fade so that the focus on the critical issue of eradicating breast cancer as a threat to the lives of American women can reemerge." She could not be reached for comment.

Blumenthal is still at HHS, where she retains her rank as an assistant surgeon general. An HHS spokesperson says her position is yet to be determined--although it won't be in the women's office, which is now casting about for a new director.