Chief of 9/11 Health Programs Gains Support


ANTHONY DePALMA / NY Times | June 28, 2008

Labor leaders, business executives and members of New York’s Congressional delegation say they fear that the federal government’s health programs for ground zero workers will be endangered if Dr. John Howard, who has coordinated those programs since 2006, ends his term as scheduled on July 5.

Dr. Howard’s strong support of screening, monitoring and treatment programs for ground zero workers has sometimes put him at odds with the Bush administration, which has been reluctant to provide long-term financing.

The ground zero health programs have recently expanded nationally. Congress has appropriated about $108 million this year and proposed a similar amount for next year, but has made no commitment beyond that.

In April, Dr. Howard wrote to Michael O. Leavitt, secretary of health and human services, indicating his desire to be reappointed as director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a post he has held since 2002.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, under which the national institute operates, declined to comment on the end of Dr. Howard’s term, saying it had a standing policy of not discussing personnel issues. Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the centers, is scheduled to meet with Dr. Howard soon to discuss the issue, said Thomas W. Skinner, a spokesman.

Members of New York’s Congressional delegation, who have lobbied intensively for federal funds for ground zero workers, want Dr. Howard to be reinstated. Without his continued leadership and support, they said, the programs would be at risk of losing financing or direction.

“Here is an example of a well-respected public servant doing his job, and the Bush administration and Secretary Leavitt cannot seem to bring themselves to let him continue,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat, said in an interview on Friday. “Everyone from miners to 9/11 heroes and heroines will suffer if he is not reappointed.”

Margaret M. Seminario, safety and health director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said Dr. Howard helped get many of the ground zero health programs off the ground. “He’s been an advocate for sick workers,” Ms. Seminario said.

She said officials had told her they were reluctant to reappoint Dr. Howard now, because doing so could tie the hands of the next president. But she said that that would not be the case, since he serves at the pleasure of the president, through the secretary of health, and could be replaced at any time.

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