Washington, DC — The federal agency overseeing offshore drilling now requires all presentations by scientists to be vetted by headquarters public relations staff, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This new political filter on science appears to fly in the face of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s recent scientific openness and integrity policy.
The November 2, 2010 directive from Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation & Enforcement (BOEMRE, a successor to the former Minerals Management Service or MMS) declares:
“From this morning’s Director’s Weekly Managers Videcon: All outside/public presentations, be they speeches, Powerpoints [sic], technical or other, etc., must be forwarded to HQ Office of Public Affairs for approval...Please submit requests with sufficient time for approval.”
Agency scientists must fill out a form for “Approval of Official Expression by Oral Presentation” but it is not explained by what standards the Office of Public Affairs approves or blocks technical papers. In addition, under a policy instituted by the agency’s Alaska office on August 19, 2010, “All forwarding (sharing) of e-mail records outside of the Bureau must include a ‘cc’ to first and second line supervisors.”
“These controls are transparent efforts to chill free exchange of scientific information and debate. They serve no legitimate management purpose,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that these policies come from BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich who has exhibited a surprisingly thin-skinned management style, such as repeatedly invoking the need to hunt down “leakers” in meetings with employees. “Why are taxpayers paying flacks to edit papers on the mating habits of walruses?”
The Alaska office of MMS had become notorious for suppressing scientific and technical reviews, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued earlier this year. In late September, Interior Secretary Salazar imposed a broad order on scientific integrity and transparency which provides:
“…DOI [Department of Interior] employees, political and career, must never suppress or alter, without new scientific or technological evidence, scientific or technological findings or conclusions. Further, employees will not be coerced to alter or censure scientific findings…”
The actions by BOEMRE, however, seem to violate the letter and certainly the spirit of this order. PEER today sent Secretary Salazar a letter asking him to rescind these new BOEMRE strictures and take disciplinary action against or remove Director Bromwich.
“If Secretary Salazar’s vow that he ‘will not tolerate’ interference with agency scientists is to be taken seriously then he cannot ignore what Mr. Bromwich is doing,” added Ruch, pointing out that Shell and other companies are now redoubling their efforts to win leases and permits from BOEMRE for drilling in Arctic waters. “This agency should be concentrating on preventing the next BP blowout, not spying on its scientists. It is hard to do effective oversight from inside a bunker.”
In contrast to the tightened reins on agency science by BOEMRE, another scandal-plagued Interior agency, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, has completely eliminated any “policy review” prior to the dissemination or publication of scientific work by its specialists.