The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Obama's Orphaned Science Integrity and Transparency Pledge

Promised Rules for Scientific Whistleblowers One Year Overdue and Counting


Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the date when new rules to
protect federal scientists and science from political interference were
supposed to have been in place. As a result, federal scientists
continue to report the same sort of suppression and skewing of
scientific and technical reports by agency managers that occurred under
the George W. Bush administration, according to Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

On March 9, 2009,
President Obama issued an Executive Memorandum to all federal
departments and agencies declaring his intent to adopt policies that
protect scientific integrity. The accompanying White House fact sheet
described the action as addressing "one of the President's key campaign
commitments on science policy, which was to 'restore scientific
integrity in government decision making.'" That order directed the
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop proposed
policies for Presidential action by July 9, 2009. That deadline has long
since lapsed with no new due date and without a cogent explanation for
the delay.

"The atmosphere under Obama for federal scientists
remains largely unchanged from the Bush era," stated PEER Executive
Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization works with federal scientists
seeking to remedy scientific misconduct and political obfuscation.
"Federal agency science is still manipulated for political reasons
largely because there are still no rules against it."

muddled federal response to the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of
Mexico illustrates a lack of scientific transparency and candor in
agency decision-making. Key examples include -

  • Without any
    scientific undergirding, EPA approved widespread application of oil
    dispersants deep underwater, despite the fact that these chemicals were
    designed for surface application. EPA even lacked baseline information
    about oil droplet size, the information it would need to measure just
    how effective the dispersant is at breaking up the oil slicks;
  • The
    National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration has flip-flopped on
    release of scientific observations about the size and nature of swelling
    underwater oil plumes; and
  • EPA also lacks information about
    dioxin and other toxic byproducts of burning large expanses of oil in
    the Gulf.

"The BP spill shows Obama officials displaying
scientific opacity, not transparency in futile attempts at damage
control and news management," Ruch added. "The Obama White House is
seemingly so devoted to message control that it cannot tolerate
discordant, off-message transparency."

In addition, Obama
policies still embrace many of the hallmarks of what had been Bush
practices, such as gag orders on scientists, allowing industry to
control information submitted to the government (for example, much of
the data oil companies submit to the former Minerals Management Service
cannot be circulated even for purposes of peer review) and resisting
Freedom of Information Act requests for technical information.

See the 2009
Obama Executive Memorandum

Look at
continuing absence of rules against manipulation of science

Note the
prevalence of gag orders on federal workers

View how MMS is
bound by industry proprietary data rules

Revisit how EPA
tries to shield scientific debate from public scrutiny

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.