The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jeff Ruch (202) 265-7337

Climate Scientists Freed from Agency Gag Order

Commerce Prior Review Policy Does Not Apply to National Weather Service Workers


Bush administration rules limiting what U.S. Department
of Commerce employees can say to the media or in public do not apply to
climate and weather scientists, according to an agency e-mail released
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a
result, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
specialists represented by the National Weather Service Employees
Organization do not have to obtain agency pre-approval to speak or
write, whether on or off-duty, concerning any scientific topic deemed
"of official interest".

The November 19, 2008 e-mail from NOAA Deputy Pacific Regional
Director Edward Young stated that the Commerce Department policy on
"'Public Communication', issued April 30, 2008, has not yet been
implemented within the National Weather Service, and does not affect
members of the Bargaining Unit". That bargaining unit is represented by
the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) and
includes 4,000 NOAA employees, including forecasters of the National
Weather Service, attorneys in NOAA's Office of General Counsel,
hurricane researchers and other meteorological scientists.

Besides those directly affected, the decision is important in that
it recognizes that agency communication restrictions are covered by
collective bargaining agreements which set working conditions. It also
reflects growing concern by federal employee unions in agencies such as
NOAA and the Environmental protection Agency about political
manipulation, suppression or screening of agency scientific and
technical work.

"While this is a welcome development, it leaves an odd situation
where climate scientists can speak but marine scientists and
oceanographers need permission in advance before answering even basic
questions," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "The next
Secretary of Commerce could end this anomaly by rescinding this policy
of prior restraint and letting all of NOAA's scientists speak freely."

The current Commerce "Public Communications" policy repealed a more
liberal "open science" policy that NOAA had adopted in February 2006.
This new policy forbids Commerce staff from communicating any relevant
information, even if prepared and delivered on their own time as
private citizens, which has not been approved by the official

  • Any "fundamental research communication" must be submitted
    to and approved by the designated "head of the operating unit" "before
    the communication occurs"; and
  • Scientists must give the
    Commerce Department at least two weeks "advance notice" of any written,
    oral or audiovisual presentation prepared on their own time if it "is a
    matter of official interest to the Department because it relates to
    Department programs, policies or operations."

The Obama campaign had pledged to embrace principles of transparent
government as well as to end political interference with official
science. "President Obama could outlaw gag orders such as these as a
matter or policy or by Executive Order," Ruch added. "We hope that
these actions take place early in his administration."


Read the e-mail announcement that the prior review policy does not apply to NWSEO employees

View the Commerce Department prior review policy

Examine PEER objections to the Commerce policy when it was proposed

Look at survey of NOAA Fisheries scientists about political interference

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.