WASHINGTON - June 29 - In an extraordinary letter of protest, representatives for 10,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists are asking Congress to stop the Bush administration from closing the agency’s network of technical research libraries. The EPA scientists, representing more than half of the total agency workforce, contend thousands of scientific studies are being put out of reach, hindering emergency preparedness, anti-pollution enforcement and long-term research, according to the letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In his proposed budget for FY 2007, President Bush deleted $2 million of support for EPA’s libraries, amounting to 80% of the agency’s total budget for libraries. Without waiting for Congress to act, EPA has begun shuttering libraries, closing access to collections and reassigning staff. The letter notes that “EPA library services are [now] greatly reduced or no longer available to the general public” in agency regional offices serving 19 states.
The letter signed by presidents of 17 locals of four unions (the American Federation of Federal Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, the National Association of Government Employees and the Engineers and Scientists of California) representing more than 10,000 EPA scientists, engineers and other technical specialists was sent to Congressional appropriators yesterday evening and states:
• “The ability of EPA to respond to emergencies will be reduced” due to a diminishing access to “the latest research on cutting-edge homeland security and public health” topics;
• Approximately 50,000 original research documents will become completely unavailable because they are not available electronically and the agency has no budget for digitizing them; and
• The public and academic researchers may lose any access to EPA library materials as services to the public are being axed and there are no plans to maintain “the inter-library loan process.”
“Eliminating library access is an absolutely awful way to run an agency devoted to public and environmental health,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “For example, important research on the Chesapeake Bay is locked away in boxes since EPA closed its Ft. Meade library this February, yet EPA still maintains that restoring the Chesapeake is a top priority.”
The dogged insistence by the Bush administration on a $2 million cut in an overall EPA budget of nearly $8 billion is particularly curious. EPA internal studies show that providing full library access saves an estimated 214,000 hours in professional staff time worth some $7.5 million annually, an amount far larger than the total agency library budget of $2.5 million.
“The Bush administration apparently decided that it was politically easier to close the libraries than to burn the books, although the end result will be the same,” Ruch added, noting that the EPA Administrator brushed aside an earlier request by the scientist unions to bargain about the library shutdowns internally.
In their letter, the EPA scientists cite library closures as “one more example of the Bush administration’s effort to suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics.” At the same time, other outside observers, such as the Chair of EPA’s own Science Advisory Board, are expressing growing concerns over the viability and coherence of EPA’s research program.