The Trump administration has fired all remaining members of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/Aids (Pacha).
Scott Schoettes, a lawyer with Lambda Legal and former member of Pacha, reported what he called a “purge” of the advisory council on Twitter. He later confirmed to The Independent that all of the remaining advisers had been let go, citing three members who had received termination letters from the administration.
“I knew that the people that remained were speaking their truth, and I’ve got a feeling that was not appreciated,” he said. “I think this is a President and an administration that doesn’t value dialogue and dissenting views.”
Mr Schoettes was one of six former members who left the council in June, claiming that the President “simply does not care” about people living with HIV.
Gabriel Maldonado, a member of the council who chose to stay, confirmed to the Washington Blade that the remaining members had all been fired this week.
Mr Maldonado said the members, many of whom were Obama-era appointees, were given no reason for their dismissal.
Kaye Hayes, Pacha’s executive director, responded to a request for comment after this story was first published.
“On December 27, 2017, the current members of Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/Aids (Pacha) received a letter informing them that the Administration was terminating their appointments,” she said in a statement. ”They were also thanked for their leadership, dedication and commitment to the effort.”
The statement also noted that changing the makeup of federal advisory committees is “a common occurrence during Administration changes”, and that former President Barack Obama had dismissed the Bush-era appointees on his council.
Ulysses Burley, a former Pacha member who left with Mr Schoettes in June, told The Independent he had heard from other, Obama-era appointees who were suddenly dismissed this week.
“As far as I know it came as a surprise, it was very abrupt, and each remaining member simply received a letter saying that their service was no longer needed effective immediately,” he said.
“To the best of my knowledge it’s not a disbandment of the council altogether, but a dismissal of any pre-Trump nominees,” he added, “which in my opinion might be more dangerous than not having a council at all.”
Cecilia Chung, an Obama-era appointee who left voluntarily after her term expired earlier this year, echoed these concerns.
“So far we have not seen the administration actively reach out to any advocates around HIV policy at all,” she said. “There is no way for us to know where on the agenda HIV policy is, and that is the concerning part.”
President Bill Clinton created Pacha in 1993 to provide advice and information to the Secretary of Health and Human Services about best practices for combating the HIV/Aids epidemic. Othe presidents, including Mr Obama, have cleared out most of their predecessor’s appointees to make room for their own.
Every president since Mr Clinton has also appointed a leader of the White House Office of National Aids Policy within their first year. Mr Trump has left the position open.
The President has also proposed massive budget cuts to HIV/Aids programmes, including a $150m reduction in funding for such programmes at the Centres for Disease Control.
Mr Burley, Mr Schoettes, and four other Pacha members quit the Council in June. In a resignation letter published in Newsweek, they warned of the potential effects of purging HIV/Aids experts from the administration.
“If we do not ensure that US leadership at the executive and legislative levels are informed by experience and expertise,” they wrote, “real people will be hurt and some will even die.”
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