NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Who Needs A Surgeon General?

February 10, 1998

The office of U.S. Surgeon General has been vacant for three years, advocates of more limited government point out, but life expectancy rates for Americans are at an all-time high. What is the great rush, they ask, to confirm another one now?

The Department of Health and Human Services assigns the Surgeon General only two duties:

  • To "serve as a spokesperson to the nation on matters of public health."
  • And to manage the personnel system of the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service.

Critics say the nation could well do without the lecturing and hectoring associated with the first responsibility. As for the second, the 6,300 officers in the Commissioned Corps are sprinkled throughout federal government agencies and report to various members of the civil service -- not to the highest officers of the Corps.

Over the years, Congress has moved toward -- but stopped short of -- eliminating the corps. Critics urge the lawmakers to take that final step.

Source: Michael Gough (Cato Institute) and Steven Milloy (Advancement of Sound Science Institute), "An Empty Uniform," Wall Street Journal, February 10, 1998.


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