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For Immediate Release: Jul 20, 2005
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

“DISINFORMATION SYNDROME” AFFLICTS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

Officials Routinely Rewarded for Lying and Punished for Telling the Truth


Washington, DC — The federal government suffers from a “severe disinformation syndrome” in which agency specialists are pressured to alter reports by managers who are promoted for breaking the law, according to congressional testimony delivered today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a consequence, scientific and technical papers, particularly within environmental agencies, are routinely censored, altered or manipulated for political purposes.

“The Bush administration obsession with controlling the flow of information means that factual information that does not serve its political agenda rarely sees the light of day,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who testified today. “Public servants who wish to speak honestly about matters outside officially approved agency talking points are required to cast a profile in courage because their honesty could cost them their jobs.”

Ruch appeared today before the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs of the House Committee on Government Reform in a hearing entitled “Improving Information Quality in the Federal Government.”
The other listed witnesses were Kim Nelson, the assistant administrator for the information office of the Environmental Protection Agency, and William Kovacs, an official with the Chamber of Commerce.

The PEER testimony outlines a pervasive effort to edit out vital but discordant information across the range of environmental activities:

  • Science. PEER and the Union of Concerned Scientists have conducted surveys among federal scientists showing a high degree of political intervention to amend scientific findings;
  • Land Management. Federal agencies are routinely issuing documents that do not withstand judicial scrutiny because the documents are at variance with the agency’s own internal data; and
  • Public Health. Whistleblowers lack meaningful protections so that professionals who raise concerns are banished or terminated as a result.

A major problem cited by PEER is that Congress extends no meaningful legal protections for executive branch employees who communicate information to oversight committees or individual members. As a consequence, official reports to Congress are often inaccurate, incomplete or untimely.

“If agencies can lie with impunity to Congress, why should they be expected to tell anyone else the truth?” Ruch asked, calling for Congress to put teeth into laws forbidding interference with or retaliation for transmitting information to elected representatives. “Right now, the federal civil service is scared to death.”

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Read PEER congressional testimony

Look at surveys of federal scientists
Political Appointees Pollute Waters At Ocean Agency
Politics Trumps Science At U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service