An investigation by the NASA inspector general found that political appointees in the space agency's public affairs office worked to control and distort public accounts of its researchers' findings about climate change for at least two years, the inspector general's office said yesterday.
The probe came at the request of 14 senators after The Washington Post and other news outlets reported in 2006 that Bush administration officials had monitored and impeded communications between NASA climate scientists and reporters.
James E. Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and has campaigned publicly for more stringent limits on greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, told The Post and the New York Times in September 2006 that he had been censored by NASA press officers, and several other agency climate scientists reported similar experiences. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are two of the government's lead agencies on climate change issues.
From the fall of 2004 through 2006, the report said, NASA's public affairs office "managed the topic of climate change in a manner that reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public." It noted elsewhere that "news releases in the areas of climate change suffered from inaccuracy, factual insufficiency, and scientific dilution."
Officials of the Office of Public Affairs told investigators that they regulated communication by NASA scientists for technical rather than political reasons, but the report found "by a preponderance of the evidence, that the claims of inappropriate political interference made by the climate change scientists and career public affairs officers were more persuasive than the arguments of the senior public affairs officials that their actions were due to the volume and poor quality of the draft news releases."
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The political interference did not extend to the research itself or its dissemination through scientific journals and conferences, the investigators said. "We found no evidence indicating NASA blocked or interfered with the actual research activities of its climate scientists," the report said, but as a result of the actions of the political appointees, "trust was lost, at least temporarily, between the agency and some of its key employees and perhaps the public it serves."
Kristin Scuderi, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in an e-mail that director John H. Marburger III "would not comment until he's reviewed the report, and he has not yet done so yet. Therefore, OSTP has no comment at this time."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of the senators who pressed for the investigation, said in a statement that the report showed that citizens had been denied access to critical scientific information that should inform public policy.
"Global warming is the most serious environmental threat we face -- but this report is more evidence that the Bush Administration's appointees have put political ideology ahead of science," Lautenberg said. "Our government's response to global warming must be based on science, and the Bush Administration's manipulation of that information violates the public trust."
© 2008 The Washington Post