Washington, DC — Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the date when new rules to protect federal scientists and science from political interference were supposed to have been in place. As a result, federal scientists continue to report the same sort of suppression and skewing of scientific and technical reports by agency managers that occurred under the George W. Bush administration, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
On March 9, 2009, President Obama issued an Executive Memorandum to all federal departments and agencies declaring his intent to adopt policies that protect scientific integrity. The accompanying White House fact sheet described the action as addressing “one of the President’s key campaign commitments on science policy, which was to ‘restore scientific integrity in government decision making.’” That order directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop proposed policies for Presidential action by July 9, 2009. That deadline has long since lapsed with no new due date and without a cogent explanation for the delay.
“The atmosphere under Obama for federal scientists remains largely unchanged from the Bush era,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization works with federal scientists seeking to remedy scientific misconduct and political obfuscation. “Federal agency science is still manipulated for political reasons largely because there are still no rules against it.”
The muddled federal response to the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico illustrates a lack of scientific transparency and candor in agency decision-making. Key examples include –
- Without any scientific undergirding, EPA approved widespread application of oil dispersants deep underwater, despite the fact that these chemicals were designed for surface application. EPA even lacked baseline information about oil droplet size, the information it would need to measure just how effective the dispersant is at breaking up the oil slicks;
- The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration has flip-flopped on release of scientific observations about the size and nature of swelling underwater oil plumes; and
- EPA also lacks information about dioxin and other toxic byproducts of burning large expanses of oil in the Gulf.
“The BP spill shows Obama officials displaying scientific opacity, not transparency in futile attempts at damage control and news management,” Ruch added. “The Obama White House is seemingly so devoted to message control that it cannot tolerate discordant, off-message transparency.”
In addition, Obama policies still embrace many of the hallmarks of what had been Bush practices, such as gag orders on scientists, allowing industry to control information submitted to the government (for example, much of the data oil companies submit to the former Minerals Management Service cannot be circulated even for purposes of peer review) and resisting Freedom of Information Act requests for technical information.