Washington, DC — Since its inception, the Bush administration has manipulated and misrepresented the findings of its own scientists to frustrate the intent of the Endangered Species Act, according to testimony released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The testimony is part of an oversight hearing today conducted by the House Natural Resources Committee.
The hearing addresses the abrupt resignation of Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald in the wake of an Inspector General report finding that she falsified agency scientific findings and improperly supplied internal drafts of agency documents to the Farm Bureau and property rights groups. According to the PEER testimony:
- Manipulation of scientific Endangered Species Act (ESA) documents has become pervasive with hundreds of agency biologists reporting their work being revised for political reasons;
- Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton fostered a “lie to succeed” culture in which managers who commit scientific fraud get promoted while scientists who persist in disclosing inconvenient facts are marginalized or fired; and
- The pattern of mendacity extends beyond the Interior Department, as fishery biologists working on ESA issues within the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) relate routine political interference with scientific assessments.
“Julie MacDonald was not a lone rogue; she was merely following orders to keep the Administration’s friends comfortable,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who appears on a panel with Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett. “If the Bush administration will not provide enforceable pledges to faithfully reflect the environmental science produced by the public agency specialists, then Congress should step in.”
PEER is proposing that Congress require written justification of all changes made by political appointees and commission an independent review to identify and correct past acts of scientific fraud. In addition, PEER is urging Congress to strengthen whistleblower laws so as to provide scientists with sorely lacking legal protection and review cases of scientists whose careers have been destroyed for political reasons.
“Interior has yet to correct any of the scientific errors that its own Inspector General found,” added Ruch, noting that unless Interior cures the defective ESA findings, the courts will be required to address them one-by-one in citizen suits brought by conservation groups. “Starting with Julie MacDonald, this revival of congressional oversight will hopefully mean that serial political manipulators will be held to account.”