Washington, DC — A large portion of an Inspector General evaluation of federal wildlife programs has been blacked out prior to publication, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Even data tables have been excised from a report on Endangered Species Act implementation, with cutouts so extensive that the core section of the report is virtually unreadable.
The June 2008 “Progress Evaluation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Program” by the Interior Office of Inspector General (IG) and posted on the agency website offers only a single, cryptic legal reference as the reason for the wholesale text deletions:
“Portions of this report have been redacted pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5) of the Freedom of Information Act.”
That exemption reads:
“(5) inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.”
“Well, that clears it up,” remarked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who was unable to get anyone from the IG office to explain why it published a report that was bowdlerized into incomprehensibility. “How well we are protecting endangered wildlife should not be classified a state secret.”
By contrast, the same IG website displays reports on seemingly far more sensitive subjects, such as an assessment of security on the National Mall and criminal wildlife enforcement, without a single redaction.
Besides its excessive secrecy, the Bush administration has also been harshly criticized for scientific suppression and political interference in its application of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In fact, the Interior Department has lost so many legal challenges brought by conservation groups, including PEER, that agency administrators complain the program is being run by lawsuits.
The most heavily excised portion of the IG report concerns the need for strategic planning in ESA but the report offers little substantive guidance. For example, one uncensored “Suggestion” urges –
“Convene a working group, including an individual or individuals with logic modeling expertise, to develop a high-level logic model for the ESA and a detailed one for the Endangered Species Program …”
“Perhaps this report was blacked out because it is so inane,” added Ruch, whose organization has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the deleted portions. “The performance of the Inspector General suggests we have the blind leading the blind over at the Interior Department.”