WASHINGTON – The Bush administration will maintain a diverse AIDS panel from the Clinton era, Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said Friday.
Thompson said he recommended that the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS continue, though federal rules governing its existence were set to expire this year.
The group will work with a cabinet-level AIDS task force that met for the first time Friday, said Thompson.
"I was very pleased with the passion and dedication of everyone involved," said Thompson in an interview. "We are really stepping forward with our continued commitment in this national and international fight against the AIDS pandemic.
"This decision will allow us to be able to best continue that," he said, adding that the Clinton-era panel will provide many citizens a voice in national AIDS policy.
Thompson said several members whose terms have not expired will stay on, including Ronald V. Dellums, a former California congressman who has chaired the panel. The Bush administration will also be making some new appointments to the council, which has more than 30 members.
Some AIDS activists and lawmakers in recent months had questioned whether Bush intended to disband the Clinton-era group. A key Bush aide had said as much in a newspaper interview, but the White House later said the official was mistaken.
"The decision to maintain continuity on the commission demonstrates a clear spirit of nonpartisanship and a political milestone in the lives of those infected or at risk of infection with HIV," said Daniel C. Montoya, a former panel director who now lobbies on AIDS issues for a Los Angeles organization.
In April, Bush announced a reorganized White House AIDS office with a new chief. The White House also announced that Thompson and Secretary of State Colin Powell would lead a team of government advisers to examine domestic and international AIDS issues.
Bush has said he wanted to bring more attention to the global epidemic. But AIDS activists here have criticized the White House on domestic policies, such as reduced funding for American treatment programs.
At the Group of Eight meeting in Italy, world leaders and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan announced a new global health fund, with an initial contribution of $1.2 billion, to combat AIDS and other infectious diseases. Bush has pledged $200 million, saying more money will come only if the fund proves a success.
Annan praised the effort, but said the leaders fell short of the $7 billion to $10 billion needed to fight diseases.