Senator Inhofe Launches Inquisition Probing Climate Research Organization


In a letter dated 24 February 2006, Republican Senator James Inhofe has asked the National Science Foundation for detailed information about the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, including details about employees and contractors… We provide the full text of the letter (also available as PDF file).

Senator Inhofe is on a fishing expedition. What is he fishing for?

Climate Science Watch has obtained the following letter from Senator James M. Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, to Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director of the National Science Foundation. Our notes and questions follow the letter:

United States Senate
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Washington, DC 20510-6175

February 24, 2006

Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
The National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230

Dear Director Bement:

Last October I asked you whether the National Science Foundation (NSF) planned to
open a Cooperative Agreement to manage and operate the National Center for
Atmospheric Research.(NCAR) to competition when the current Agreement expires in
2008. You responded that NSF intends to compete this Agreement and that you expected
to issue the first formal competition announcement early in 2006. Please provide me
with a copy of this announcement when it is issued as well as subsequent notices
regarding this specific competition.

Additionally, as you are aware, climate change comprises one of the many issues under
the jurisdiction of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). As the
Committee’s Chairman, I am examining the roles that the National Center for
Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University Corporation for Atmospheric
Research (UCAR) play in researching, analyzing, and understanding the science of global
climate change. To assist me in my oversight responsibilities, I request that you provide
the following information:

  • A basic organization chart for NCAR and UCAR with names and titles of office directors,
  • A list of all NCAR and UCAR staff, their job title, location, and a brief description of their duties and responsibilities.
  • A list of all NCAR and UCAR employees working at, or who are under contract with, non-NSF Federal agencies and departments or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), their job title, salary, and length of time on this assignment. Please provide this information for a period of time covering the past 3 years.
  • Any and all rules, policies, regulations, manuals, internal memoranda, and any
    other documents that govern NCAR and UCAR employees working at or who are
    under contract with non-NSF Federal agencies and departments or NGOs.

A list of research projects funded for the last 3 years broken out by institutions
and amount of funding by fiscal year.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this request. I look forward to receiving
your response by Monday, February 13, 2006.

If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Charli Coon on my
Committee staff at (202) 224-3119.

James M. Inhofe

Cc: Dr. Kathie Olsen, Deputy Director

A note on the institutional context of this interrogation: The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), based in Boulder, Colorado, is a consortium of the dozens of universities with graduate programs in the atmospheric sciences. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), also in Boulder, is a research laboratory component of the UCAR organization. NCAR is one of the worlds foremost climate research centers. Scientists at NCAR are significant contributors to the climate science literature and scientific assessments of climate change, most notably the major international assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). NCAR scientists, in collaboration with colleagues at other institutions, have been instrumental in developing one of the world’s leading models used for projecting future climate change.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a federal agency with a mission to support peer-reviewed academic research in many disciplines, and provides substantial support for research on climate and global environmental change. NSF has for some time had a contractual relationship with UCAR and NCAR under which NSF provides ongoing support. In addition, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), the large multi-agency federal program that supports climate research and global observing systems, contracts via NSF with the UCAR Joint Office of Science Support to provide management services and personnel to support the CCSP coordination office.

It is well-known that Senator Inhofe is perhaps the most outspoken member of Congress in opposition to the understanding of global warming and climate change that is most generally held in the science community. His views stand in stark contradiction to the conclusions presented in comprehensive and widely-vetted publications by the IPCC, as well as reports by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences — about the reality of observed global warming resulting from human activities, projected greater warming in the coming decades, and the likelihood of a range of adverse societal and environmental impacts. Senator Inhofe aligns himself with the views of oil industry-funded interest groups. For example, he joined in the lawsuit brought by the Competitive Enterprise Institute in 2000-2001 that attempted to suppress the federally funded National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts, a major report that was praised and endorsed in a National Research Council review of the CCSP.

He has consistently adopted an adversarial stance toward mainstream climate science while using his political platform to promote the views of a few “contrarian” scientists out of all proportion to their influence and acceptance in the research community. His suggestion that global warming is a “hoax” perpetrated on the American people is an insult to the science community.

A note on congressional jurisdiction: Senator Inhofe is entitled to take a broad interest in environmental issues, and in fact has a number of issues formally assigned to the jurisdiction of his committee. However, under Senate rules, the only major federal agency under the oversight jurisdiction of his committee is the Environmental Protection Agency. On the other hand, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, chaired by Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) does have formal jurisdiction over NSF, along with other agencies involved in climate change research, including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It is the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, not Senator Inhofes committee, that holds confirmation hearings for presidential nominees to head these agencies.

The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s formal jurisdiction includes “science research and policy” and “oceans, weather, and atmospheric activities.” The Director of NSF testifies before this committee, and the committee has held numerous hearings on climate change in recent years. It held a “Global Climate Change Policy and Budget Review” hearing in 2005, at which the Director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program testified. In contrast, since the summer of 2003, according to his committees Web site, the only hearing related to climate that Senator Inhofe has held was one on the Kyoto Protocol in October 2005. No U.S. scientists testified at that hearing.

Senator Inhofe has never held a hearing at which scientists from NCAR were invited to testify. He does, however, take to the Senate floor from time to time to read into the record long, detailed speeches in which he rejects, topic by topic, all the leading scientific assessments that have raised concerns about the implications of global climate change — in the process misrepresenting decades of serious research. So when the Senator gets into the investigative mode with a research consortium whose efforts have produced a substantial body of the leading climate science, we should wonder, and inquire, what he is up to.

On what basis does Senator Inhofe claim an interest in, and investigative jurisdiction over, details about all NCAR and UCAR scientists and other personnel and their job duties? On what basis is it appropriate for him to demand a list of NCAR and UCAR employees working under contract with federal offices, their job titles and salaries, along with “any and all rules, policies, regulations, manuals, internal memoranda, and any other documents that govern NCAR and UCAR employees working under contract with federal agencies”?

What does he plan to do with the information he is seeking? What interest might he have in undercutting the NSF-UCAR relationship? What personnel matters might he be interested in influencing, and why? Why is he interested in the salaries of staff in the Climate Change Science Program Office? What interest might he have in undercutting that office?

What interactions on these matters might he be having with officials at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (one of his actual areas of jurisdiction), with the Director of the Climate Change Science Program, with other political officials, or with interest groups?

Do his colleagues on the Environment and Public Works Committee know what he is doing? Do the members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has oversight jurisdiction over NSF and federal science research and policy, know about this? What do they think of it?

Climate Science Watch will take an ongoing interest in learning and reporting on what comes of this.

This entry was posted in Congress: Legislation and Oversight, Global Warming Denial Machine, U.S. Global Change Research Program. Bookmark the permalink.