Washington, DC — The White House is wrongfully withholding documents detailing why its proposed scientific integrity and transparency rules are being waylaid, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The promised rules are already 15 months overdue and are subject to intense pushback from agencies seeking to preserve prerogatives to rewrite scientific and technical documents for political purposes.
On March 9, 2009, President Obama issued an Executive Memorandum to all departments declaring his intent to adopt policies that protect scientific integrity. That order directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to develop rules for Presidential action by July 9, 2009. More than a year later, however, no rules have emerged and no new target date has been announced.
In a June 18, 2010 blog post, OSTP Director John Holdren wrote that the promulgation “process has been more laborious and time-consuming than expected,” adding:
“Indeed, OSTP began the process by creating an interagency panel with representatives from all of the major science offices and agencies... the group developed draft recommendations for consideration by OSTP and OMB [Office of Management & Budget]. And over the intervening months representatives from those two offices have been honing a final set of recommendations.”
On August 11, 2010, PEER submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to OSTP for a copy of the panel’s recommendations as well as for official position papers from participating agencies. OSTP did not acknowledge the PEER request for more than a month but wrote on September 20, 2010 that it was “still in the information gathering phase.” By mid-October OSTP still could not commit to providing a single document within a set timeframe so PEER today filed suit in federal district court in the District of Columbia seeking an order that OSTP turn over the requested documents.
“Why is the development of transparency policy cloaked in secrecy?” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, indicating that the long delay signals an intense behind-the-scenes bureaucratic tug-of-war. “The public should know which agencies oppose a presidential directive to stop politicizing science and why.”
If implemented as written, the Obama March 2009 order would bring revolutionary change to the way federal agencies treat science and scientists, who would be extended whistleblower protection for reporting data manipulation or suppression. It would also bring a new openness to how science is conducted and reported. The scope of these changes is indicated by a sweeping September 29, 2010 order by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pledging to write integrity rules without waiting for OSTP.
“Purging politics from science is precisely the type of fundamental reform on which Barack Obama campaigned and now that he is President is within his power to order,” Ruch added, noting concern that OMB is diluting draft science rules as it has with other proposed regulations. “So, why is this ‘change we need’ still in limbo?”