Report Charges Broad White House Efforts to Stifle Climate Research

Justin Rood
March 27, 2007 12:13 PM

Bush administration officials throughout the government have engaged in White House-directed efforts to stifle, delay or dampen the release of climate change research that casts the White House or its policies in a bad light, says a new report that purports to be the most comprehensive assessment to date of the subject.

Researchers for the non-profit watchdog Government Accountability Project reviewed thousands of e-mails, memos and other documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and from government whistle-blowers and conducted dozens of interviews with public affairs staff, scientists, reporters and others.

The group says it has identified hundreds of instances where White House-appointed officials interfered with government scientists' efforts to convey their research findings to the public, at the behest of top administration officials.

The report is slated to be released tomorrow at a hearing before the House Science Committee, which is investigating the issue.

"The evidence suggests that incidents of interference are often top-down reactions to science that has negative policy or public relations implications for the administration," the group says in its report.

Some of the alleged interference -- including restricting scientists' ability to talk with the press and Congress -- may have violated federal laws protecting their right to speak, the group concludes.

"Directives and signals" from White House offices, like the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget, are handed down to political appointees and politically-aligned civil servants through off-the-record conversations, the report says. Frequently, those giving the direction have little or no scientific background, according to the report.

The alleged interference took the form of "delaying, monitoring, screening, and denying interviews" between government scientists and media outlets, as well as delaying, denying or "inappropriate[ly] editing" press releases conveying scientific findings to the public.

Political appointees also suppressed, delayed and inappropriately edited reports produced by government scientists for Congress and the public, the Washington, D.C.-based group concluded.

In some cases, the policies and practices the group says were enacted to squelch damaging scientific information "constitute constitutional and statutory infringements of the federal climate science employees' free speech and whistle-blower rights," the report finds.

"Claims the administration interfered with science are false," Kristen Hellmer, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told ABC News. "We spend nearly $2 billion a year on climate science, which leads the world and speaks for itself."

Tarek Maassarani, the report's author, cautioned that he did not see evidence of a single coordinated White House effort to block credible climate research.^ Instead, he believed officials acted only when a piece of research or particular issue showed up on their political radar.^ "They're reacting to situations most of the time," Maassarani told ABC News.

The investigation covered the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Departments of Energy and Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and elsewhere.

Evidence and allegations of political interference in government climate change research have dogged the Bush administration, even from fellow Republicans. Last November, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., charged the administration had broken the law by failing to deliver news of climate change research to Congress by a legally-mandated deadline of November 2004.

"When you get to that degree of obfuscation, then you get a little depressed," McCain said then.

House Science and Technology Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller, D-N.C., said the report's findings were "alarming" but "confirm what we knew all along" and looked forward to learning more at tomorrow's hearing.