Ocean Scientists' Work Screened by Public Relations Staff

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Email: info@peer.org

Ocean Scientists' Work Screened by Public Relations Staff

All Outside Communication Monitored Contrary to New Scientific Openness Pledge

WASHINGTON - 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 flaks 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.

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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