For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 26, 2002
President Nominates NIH Director and Surgeon General
The East Room
Nominees in Focus: Key Health Care Posts
1:47 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Tommy, very much, and welcome to the White House for this historic announcement. I appreciate your leadership, Tommy, in leading this administration's strong efforts to improve our nation's health care, to make sure that more Americans get affordable health care, better patient protections, that the system puts our patients first, the system understands the importance of our docs, and we value that relationship, patient and doctor.
I also want to assure our fellow Americans that we're going to make and are making an unprecedented commitment to medical research. And we're improving our public health system to make sure that we can respond quickly to any biological threat that our country may face. We're putting sound health care policies in place, and as importantly, putting a quality team in place. And that's what we're here to discuss today.
It's my honor to nominate two fine men to head important government institutions, to take important jobs. My nominee to lead the National Institute of Health is Elias Zerhouni, and my nominee as the next Surgeon General is Richard Carmona. These are distinguished physicians who have worked tirelessly to save lives, and to improve lives. They bring exceptional knowledge and skill to these critical jobs. And they are absolutely dedicated to improving the health and well-being of all Americans.
It is my honor to welcome their families here, as well. Thank you all for coming -- Nadia Zerhouni and her children, and Diane Carmona and her children. We welcome you all and we're glad you're here. I want to thank the acting NIH Director, Ruth Kirschstein for being here, as well. Where are you, Ruth? Thank you so much, Ruth, for a fine job. I appreciate the Acting Surgeon General. Ken, where are you? Ken, thank you for being here, and thank you for your find job, as well.
I want to thank the former NIH Director, Harold Varmus for being here. Antonia Novello is here. Thank you, Antonia -- I remember you. (Laughter.) She was a former Surgeon General under 41. (Laughter.) And I'm so pleased that former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, former Senator Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, former Congressman John Porter, as well, from Illinois is here. Thank you all for coming. We're honored you're here. And I also want to thank the Ambassador from Algeria for being here, as well. Thank you all for coming.
The National Institutes of Health is entering a new era of medical promise. NIH researchers recently cracked the genetic code, an amazing achievement with enormous potential benefits. New diagnostic tools are alerting patients when they have an elevated risk of certain diseases, so they can take an active role in preventing them. New treatment therapies will be tailor-made for an individual's genetic makeup. And many medical treatments will become less invasive.
American medicine is on the verge of dramatic progress against AIDS, against diabetes and against heart disease. We're closing in on cancer's cause and cancer's cure. The anthrax attacks against American citizens also demonstrated the need to strengthen our defenses against bioterrorism. Medical research will improve our ability to identify and respond and treat infectious diseases, whether they occur naturally or are used as terrorist weapons.
The NIH has taken a leading role in this important front on the war against terror. The work of the National Institutes of Health have never been more promising, and never been more important.
Leading the NIH is a great responsibility, and I have picked the right man to do so. Dr. Zerhouni and his wife immigrated to America from Algeria with $300 in their pocket, but a dream of opportunity. Today he is the Executive Vice Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the Chairman of the Department of Radiology and Radiological Science at Johns Hopkins, and a Professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering. He is an expert in biomedical research, and is committed to extending his benefits to all Americans, and all humanity.
Dr. Zerhouni will also bring strong management skills to the NIH, and they are needed. This is a large and complex organization. The NIH budget has grown dramatically from around $2 billion in 1975 to more than $23 billion today. And my 2003 budget proposes an additional increase of nearly $4 billion. I urge Congress to approve this increase, and when they do, we will have completed my campaign commitment to double funding to this vital medical research over the next five years. (Applause.)
Dr. Zerhouni is well-prepared to manage this rapidly growing institution during times of great new opportunity and urgent biodefense needs. He has supervised research at Johns Hopkins, one of our nation's leading research facilities. One former colleague calls him a quadruple threat: a doctor who excels at teaching, researching, patient care and management. Dr. Zerhouni shares my view that human life is precious, and should not be exploited or destroyed for the benefits of others. And he shares my view that the promise of ethically conducted medical research is limitless.
As Director of the NIH, Dr. Zerhouni will be at the forefront of our efforts to promote biomedical research with a careful regard for the bounds of medical ethics.
Dr. Zerhouni, thank you for accepting this incredibly exciting challenge. (Applause.)
Translating medical research into practical life-improving changes is a critical function of the Surgeon General. Since 1871, the Surgeon General has been America's chief health educator, giving Americans the best, most up-to-date knowledge on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of disease.
When I first learned that Dr. Richard Carmona once dangled out of a moving helicopter, I worried that maybe he wasn't the best guy -- (laughter) -- to educate our Americans about reducing health risks. (Laughter.) But that panned out to be just one of several times that Dr. Carmona risked his own life to save others.
As an Army Green Beret in Vietnam, a decorated police officer in Pima County, Arizona, a SWAT team member, a nurse and a physician, Dr. Carmona has redefined the term, hands-on medicine. Dr. Carmona currently serves as the Clinical Professor of Surgery and Clinical Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona. He is also the chairman of the state of Arizona Southern Regional Emergency Medical System. He will bring to the Surgeon General's Office a proven commitment to service, and a strong management background.
The next Surgeon General will address three particularly urgent issues. First, the Surgeon General administers the 5,600-member Public Health Service Commission Corps, health care professionals who are on call for emergency duty. Members of this force were deployed in New York and Washington, D.C. after the terrorist attacks of September the 11th, and during the anthrax attacks that followed.
Dr. Carmona has worked for many years in law enforcement and community preparedness, important preparation for any emergency that may come. Dr. Carmona is an experienced voice to help educate Americans about the best precautions and response to the threat of bioterrorism.
Second, I have asked Dr. Carmona to lead an important initiative focusing on prevention and life-long healthy living as a key component to medical care. The research is overwhelming that simple improvements in diet and exercise would result in dramatic improvements in America's health. Studies show that overweight Americans who are at risk of developing type II diabetes or coronary heart disease can delay and possibly prevent these diseases with just moderate exercise and a healthy diet. Walking 30 minutes a day will dramatically improve your life. Playing a game with your children in your backyard will help. Walking in a park can make a difference to your health.
These relatively small actions can dramatically reduce costs and strain on our health care system. Fitness and a healthy lifestyle are a priority for me. I really like to run. It makes me feel better. The doc and I are going to encourage all our country to either run or walk or swim or bicycle for the good of their families, for the good of their own health, and for the good of the health of the nation.
And thirdly, Dr. Carmona is going to speak regularly to the nation about alcohol and drug abuse, and the tremendous toll they take on our society. Substance abuse by students undermines academic achievement and dims the great hope of the American Dream. Alcohol is a prime cause for many of our society's ills, not the least of which is domestic violence. And the long-term health effects of alcohol and drug abuse are devastating. If we want to live healthier and longer, we're going to have to tackle the problems of alcohol and drug abuse. And Dr. Carmona's going to make that one of his priorities.
Doctor, I thank you so very much for your willingness to serve our country. (Applause.)
I have found two fine Americans who are willing to serve our nation, and I'm grateful for their service. It is now my honor to welcome to the podium Dr. Zerhouni, the nominee to run our National Institute of Health. (Applause.)
END 2:00 P.M. EST