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STATEMENT OF KAY C. JAMES, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES-DESIGNATE Ms. JAMES. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I am honored to appear before you as President Bush's nominee to be Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. I look forward, if confirmed, to serving the President, Secretary Sullivan and the tens of thousands of dedicated HHS employees as we endeavor to preserve, strengthen and broaden the health and economic security of all Americans.
I will strive to make the Office of Public Affairs an important ally in all aspects of Secretary Sullivan's work on behalf of the Nation. We are HHS' vital conduit to the American public, providing important information on health, support for our families and the elderly, and economic security. I will make sure that this information is timely, accurate and easily accessible.
In my previous work, I have had occasion to closely observe and interact with the department. I therefore know that the Department of Health and Human Services has been a creative and credible vehicle for the dissemination for information on health, family policy and economic security. HHS has a long history of service which has forged a strong bond with the American people. This bond of trust is always important and must never be violated. My goal will be to strengthen it.
Let me cite just one example of how important our work can become. The American public is quickly becoming more health conscious and better informed about health risks and health opportunities. Our citizens depend upon us to deliver new and accurate information about the spread of AIDS and the dangers of illicit drug
In short, the American people expect us to clearly and completely give them the facts on all relevant health and human service issues.
That is an exciting challenge for the Office of Public Affairs. If we perform our work with competence, insight and imagination, then the American people will greatly benefit from our efforts. If we fail in our task, then our country will suffer.
Along these lines, it is important that the Office of Public Affairs does continue to grow with the times. The advent of satellite, cable and video provides new and unique opportunities for delivering our message to the American public, I will work to make certain that we carefully explore and utilize each medium to the best of its potential.
I am also committed to expansion of our open and extremely helpful dialogue with the local and national media. Many of the top advertising agencies, television and movie production companies and many other members of the media have offered their help and assistance to help us tackle critical health issues like AIDS and illicit drug use. We can also harness their genius and expertise in the struggle against cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. I will work to keep this dialogue going.
I have a particular commitment to the anti-drug effort. Like so many other Americans, I have been personally affected by adult relatives who were alcohol abusers when I was a child. Living
through the pain and suffering has made a lasting impression. I know how important it is for people to understand that help is available and how to gain access to it. I will work to increase that understanding.
Also, I would reiterate what President Bush and Secretary Sullivan have repeatedly stated. We are prepared to work with Congress in a bipartisan spirit. I pledge to put forth every effort to serve the public with valuable and accurate information.
I would, of course, be pleased to respond to any questions. And I thank you again for inviting me to appear before you today.
The prepared statement of Ms. James appears in the appendix.]
The CHAIRMAN. Let me thank you in a personal way for your agreeing to serve on the Children's Commission, created by legislation which I authored. And I think under the able chairmanship of senator Rockefeller, you and others on that Commission, that you will be able to, and I hope give us some strong and good suggestions in the way of what we can do to help improve the circumstances of children around the country.
Now as to your specific role, how much do you think you will be involved in the formulation of policy, in addition to being a conveyor of information about that policy?
Ms. JAMES. Well I think it is very clear that the Office of Public Affairs, their role has historically and will continue to be in the future a role to make sure that policies are articulated. We are involved in terms of making sure once the operating and staff divisions have developed policy that we can articulate that to the American public.
And I think I recognize that certain policies have certain implications, and I would be happy to advise the Secretary as well as other Assistant Secretaries about policy implications. But my role is to make sure that the Administration and the Secretary's policies are articulated to the American public.
The CHAIRMAN. Well let's suppose the Secretary comes up with a policy that you just really do not agree with. How are you going to handle publicizing it, being a conduit for that information?
Ms. JAMES. Well having served in the capacity of a public affairs specialist for many years, it won't be a new situation for me. I think that at that point in time what my role is is to advise the Secretary, if appropriate, of what my opinions are. But my job is to make sure that I articulate the Secretary's position, and that is how I view my job and that is what I intend to do.
The CHAIRMAN. That's good enough for me. How about it, Senator Packwood?
Senator PACKWOOD. No questions, Mr. Chairman.
Senator ARMSTRONG. Mr. Chairman, the role of a Senator is quite different than that of the Assistant Secretary-designate for Public Affairs. If Mrs. James is confirmed, as I hope she will be, she said it is her job to communicate in effect the party line, the Administration's position, and so on.
I have sometimes come before this committee and even before the Senate to criticize appointments that have come before us. I have even voted against a few of the nominees that have come before us and I will probably do so again. But I would not want to let this occasion pass since I felt free to criticize some nominees and, in effect, to question the President's judgment on some of them without saying that I think that Mr. Bush's decision in designating Mrs. James for this position is an extraordinarily good choice. We often talk about how we are going to reach out and attract the best people from private life to come into the government, and our most talented people and our most outstanding people, and that is a lot easier to say than to actually do. But in asking Mrs. James to join this government, the President has really reflected great credit on himself.
I happen to know Mrs. James in several ways, both in a personal and professional way, and I just wouldn't want the moment to pass without expressing my great faith and confidence in her. Sometime there will be some crisis that she will be involved in. I don't know what it is, but you just can't be in a job like she is undertaking or that any of us are in without at some point getting to that kind of a crunch. And when the crunch comes she will do the kind of job that will make the President proud of her, make the country proud of her, and make the members of the committee glad that they voted to confirm her.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Senator.
Senator DURENBERGER. Mr. Chairman, I rarely question the President's judgment.
Senator PACKWOOD. Well you should do it more often. [Laughter.]
Senator DURENBERGER. So it is a tribute to this candidate that our colleague on my left who often does-in fact very often doesis complimented both by the President's judgment and by his own in choosing his friends and his colleagues and associates. By reputation, Mrs. James is an outstanding candidate for this position. And I think what she said in her opening statement about health is much like what the Secretary said when he was here. And I think John Heinz asked the Secretary-designate at that time what one thing would he want to be remembered for, and the response, in effect, was to redefine what we mean in this country by health? I mean, what does that word mean? And how can we, as a society, approach keeping people healthy, keeping them well in a different and a better way? And I was happy to see similar references in Mrs. James' statement. And I certainly heartily endorse her nomination.
The CHAIRMAN. Are there others who would like to comment here?
Senator CHAFEE. Mr. Chairman?
I would hope, Mrs. James, that with your accesses you mention to the national media then maybe you will give us a hand, in stressing to Americans the need to remain healthy. I am sure we spend an awful lot of money in restoring people to health, but if we spent a little more time in trying to keep people healthy the Nation would be far better off and those individuals obviously would be better off. So I would hope that you would use the prestige of your office and the contacts that you are able to obtain to lay great stress on preventative medicine. Not smoking; using seat belts; watch the food people eat; watch the salt; watch the sugar; watch the fat, so that we can have a healthier American population of every economic strata and every background. And I would hope that obviously you are not just an individual who is a mouthpiece. You are going to have the ability to accent certain areas because the Secretary is not going to be in your office every day telling you what to do. So you have a great deal of room for initiative. And I would hope that what you have discussed in your testimony on top of page 2, “The American public is quickly becoming more health conscious,” well I hope you are right, but let's do everything we can to steer them in that direction through what they eat, and how they conduct their lives, and get some exercise every day, and the very basic and the fundamentals which all of us know but we've got to stress more.
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Ms. JAMES. I couldn't agree with you more, Senator. As matter of fact, I can't wait until after confirmation to have the opportunity to use my bully pulpit to give a speech which I have been working on for a while called “Grease and Gravy.”
Senator CHAFEE. What is that again?
Ms. JAMES. I want to take that message out, particularly to the black community, about the foods that we eat, and how they can affect our health, how we can improve our health through exercise and those things. I have seen it in my own family, as I have said.
Senator CHAFEE. And they are very healthy looking.
Ms. JAMES. Yes. Dad makes them. He has brought me along on this particular issue. But I have seen what can happen and how families' health can change when they have incorporated healthy eating as well as exercise. And I know how difficult it is to change those kinds of habits. And it is going to be through public information and education that we do that. And so I would look forward to using my bully pulpit to do just that.
Senator CHAFEE. Well thank you. And I look forward to seeing you do that. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. JAMES. Thank you.
Senator MOYNIHAN. Mrs. James, can I take you through a hypothetical sequence? Supposing you are confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, which you, will be, and supposing you held your first briefing, and some member of the press said to you “Is the Bush Administration ever going to appoint an Assistant Secretary for Family Support?”
Now last year, after 25 years of effort, we finally passed a welfare bill. Welfare is not an isolated phenomenon. About one-third of American children will receive welfare before they are age 18; more than half of black children. And it passed out of this committee 17 to 3, and finally passed out of the Senate 96 to 1. A huge effort. And there is no Assistant Secretary. If there is no Assistant Secretary there will be no program.
And so if someone said to you, “Mrs. James, is there ever going to be an Assistant Secretary or is this a decision by the Administration not to pursue that matter,” a matter we have clearly made a priority. The chairman and the ranking member have made clear
that this is our priority. Mr. Darman came up here. The OMB had not fully funded our new law as we required.
What will you say when that question is put to you?
Ms. JAMES. well I would say a few things. First of all, I would assume that the question would be asked with tongue and cheek because it would be fairly obvious to anyone that, of course, it is the intention of the Secretary and of the President to fill that particular job.
Senator Moynihan, Is it obvious? It is now the middle of May.
Ms. JAMES. Well, you know, first of all, there is an acting Secretary there. And it, I would say, would largely depend on what the actual circumstances are in the hypothetical situation. I always hesitate to answer hypotheticals because you can get into trouble.
Senator MOYNIHAN. Well I forewarned you.
May I just say that it is commencing to be a scandal, and it is a scandal, ma'am. It is a scandal. And if the Administration is going to let a program that important to that many children be hostage to the views of a very few members of this body-a very few, and perhaps some other bodies. I don't know-well. But congratulations.
The CHAIRMAN. Are there other questions of the nominees? Senator Pryor.
Senator Pryor, Yes, Mr. Chairman.
I had not planned to ask a question, Mr. Chairman. Mrs. James was very eloquent in her statement. I think you said that your role is to articulate the position of the Secretary and the President. Is this correct?
Ms. JAMES. That's right.
Senator Pryor. Now Senator Moynihan has just asked you a hypothetical; let me ask you one.
In this morning's Washington Post there is a story about the OMB altering a statement of a very famous scientist, James Hansen, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute. Let's say that you are helping in preparation of testimony before a committee, and you are assisting some Under Secretary or some person within the agencies of HHS to come forward and testify. All of a sudden OMB walks in the room and says, you know, we don't like this testimony of Mr. Smith or Miss Jones, so we're going to alter this. And there you are, Mrs. James. You are caught in the middle. You are caught in the middle of OMB altering a statement of perhaps a scientist, perhaps a doctor, perhaps a long time public servant. What are you going to do?
Ms. JAMES. That would not be a dilemma for me. Senator PRYOR. And if it were against the will of that individual, why would that not be a dilemma?
Ms. JAMES. Because I think all public servants should always as a matter of integrity go with the truth. And I think if it is a matter of altering testimony in order to make it more accurate, then I wouldn't have a problem. And I think that it would not be in the best interest of our country or any public servant to alter documents, And so it wouldn't even be a dilemma.
Senator PRYOR. Well, I am glad to hear you respond with that degree of strength, because this is a troublesome thing. It is extremely troublesome. It was done over his protest. And to have