Washington, D.C. — Dr. William Hogarth, Director of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, communicated to all agency employees his concerns over a report showing political interference with scientific decision-making at NOAA. Director Hogarth sent two emails in reaction to the negative attention generated by the public release of a questionnaire administered to NOAA Fisheries scientists working in field and regional offices by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Hogarth’s emails, the first on June 30, 2005, two days after public release of the survey, and the second on July 7, expressed concern over the survey results that show undue political pressure within the agency and explained to NOAA Fisheries scientists that the results are inconsistent with his experience with the agency’s decision-making process.
Hogarth’s communication encouraged employees to “talk with your leadership and ask questions where you do not understand the basis for management decisions” because in an organization such as NOAA Fisheries there are many factors that must be considered in scientific decision-making. Hogarth’s follow-up email added, “These accusations sincerely bother me. In fact, I consider this to be an attack on me as a manager.”
The survey of more than 460 NOAA Fisheries scientists, which received a response of 27%, showed agency science is suffering under political manipulation and inappropriate influence of special interests. More than half of all respondents (53%) were aware of cases in which “commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of NOAA Fisheries scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention,” and only one-quarter of the respondents said they “trust NOAA Fisheries decision makers to make decisions that will protect marine resources and ecosystems.”
In its response to both Hogarth messages, PEER expresses its concern that Hogarth set out to explain away the disturbing reports of political interference as the inability of agency scientists to fully appreciate the non-scientific factors in decision-making. This argument fails to show that scientific decisions at the agency are safe from inappropriate influences and criticizes highly trained professional staff in the process.