Washington, DC — The proposed new U.S. Interior Department “Strategic Plan” touts scientific integrity as one of its cornerstones even while its managers continue to manipulate technical data and findings for political reasons, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Each month, new reports surface from Interior scientists and technical specialists that political appointees are ordering scientific documents to be rewritten so as to be less protective of natural resources. Nonetheless, a key passage of the “Draft Revised Interior Strategic Plan for FY 2007-2012” reads:
“Integrity must remain the foundation of all Department of the Interior science: impartiality, honesty in all aspects of scientific enterprise, and a commitment to ensure that information is available to the public as a whole.”
The principal official responsible for the development of this five-year Strategic Plan is Paul Hoffman, a former Dick Cheney aide who occupies a slot with the jaw-numbing title of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Performance, Accountability, and Human Resources. Up until this March, however, Hoffman had a comparable position overseeing the National Park and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services. In that previous slot, Hoffman, who lacks any scientific training, repeatedly ordered scientific documents to be rewritten.
Most notably, last year Hoffman prepared a rewrite of all National Park Service management policies that caused a furor for proposing to subordinate the conservation mission of parks to public “enjoyment.” In that effort (ultimately rejected by the new Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne), Hoffman, a “Young Earth” creationist, struck all references to evolution (such as, “species are evolving,” “naturally evolving ecosystems” and “natural evolutionary processes”) from the management policies. In some cases, Hoffman left entire paragraphs intact except to excise a reference to evolution.
“Putting political hacks like Paul Hoffman in charge of developing agency science policy may not be the best idea,” suggested PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “If the Department of Interior really expects its promises of scientific integrity and transparency to be greeted by anything other than guffaws of disbelief, it needs to clean house and remove all its appointees who are ham-handedly cooking its scientific books.”
In another passage, the Strategic Plan states, “We are continuing to refine a science code of conduct for all employees, contractors, and consultants and their managers who deal with science in their daily work.”
“If Interior is, in fact, developing a code of scientific conduct, why is it doing so behind closed doors?” asked Ruch, pointing to a national survey conducted last year by PEER and the Union of Concerned Scientists showing high percentages of Fish & Wildlife Service scientists citing frequent and inappropriate political intervention as evidence of the need for an open re-appraisal of agency practices.
Interior’s draft Strategic Plan remains subject to public comment through October 23, 2006.