The appointment of Utahn James O. Mason as a top aide in the Health and Human Services Department was unanimously endorsed Wednesday by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said confirmation by the full Senate of Mason as assistant secretary for health was possible late Wednesday afternoon, although normally a three-day waiting period is required.Mason, who is now director for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and was a former director of the Utah Health Department, was praised by committee members for demonstrating strong expertise in past jobs.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking Republican on the committee, said, "Throughout his tenure at the Centers for Disease Control, he has quietly done the job that needed to be done. He has fought to expand our efforts to prevent diseases before they occur; he has directed much of our nation's AIDS policy; and he has supported the programs that train many of our state public health officials."

Hatch said Mason, in his new post, will still oversee the Centers for Disease Control and national biomedical research efforts, training of health care professionals, the safety of food and drugs and many health care delivery programs.

Mason was offered the job by President Bush earlier this year in part to help quell fury among conservatives - including Hatch - about statements by Mason's soon-to-be-boss HHS Secretary Louis W. Sullivan suggesting he favored allowing abortions on demand.

Mason opposes abortion on demand. He recently told the Deseret News, "I strongly believe that abortion is a pretty poor way to solve the problems of the nation. Abortion basically is wrong; it is a tragedy. It is being used essentially as a form of contraception."

Mason is a Salt Lake native. He received his bachelor's and medical degrees at the University of Utah. He also holds a master's and a doctorate in public health from Harvard.