The Bush administration did a quick little Texas two-step around the issue of AIDS. Press reports first had the office of "AIDS czar" being abolished, but a few hours later the White House press office clarified their position and said that was not the case.
In a front-page article on Feb. 7, USA Today screamed that Bush was going to eliminate offices on AIDS and race relations created by President Clinton. Their source was an interview with White House chief of staff Andrew Card. He said, "The presumption that a White House bureaucracy looks the same from administration to administration is a myth."
The ink was not yet dry on that edition of the newspaper when the press office issued a clarification. Card "made a mistake," said spokesman Ari Fleischer, the functions of both offices would be maintained, though the administrative structures will change.
Fleischer said they anticipate that both a member of the Domestic Policy Council and an AIDS expert from the Department of Health and Human services, on loan to the White House, will handle HIV. The Clinton administration also staffed their HIV activities with personnel on loan from other government agencies as a way to make the White House staff and budget appear smaller.
At the Retroviral Conference in Chicago, Anthony Fauci was "very surprised" to read the headline that morning. The principle leader of AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health said that in discussions with members of the transition office and later the domestic policy office, they had been "eager to do the right things."
Fauci thought that "integrating [ HIV ] into the fundamental domestic policy issues might turn out to be a positive thing, rather than have it off isolated." He added, "certainly the funding will be fine."
AIDS organizations breathed a tentative sigh of relief, awaiting appointment of key people who will work on HIV issues. The National Minority AIDS Council said the Office of National AIDS Policy "provides an important vehicle for close collaboration with national and international AIDS organizations."
"It's important that Bush's inner circle of advisers deal with this issue on a daily basis," said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign. She sees the office as important to coordinate activities that involve both domestic and international issues.