GAP and UCS call on Commerce Dept. to suspend new restrictive media policy

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April 23—In a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today attacked a new media policy affecting all departmental employees, including climate change scientists and meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The policy was presented last month and was described as institutionalizing recent advances in scientific freedom at the Department of Commerce (DOC), including NOAA.

Government Accountability Project
National Office
1612 K Street, NW Suite #1100 • Washington, D.C. 20006
202.408.0034 • http://www.whistleblower.org
April 23, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Tom Devine, Legal Director
Phone:  202.408.0034 ext. 124, cell 240.888.4080
Email:    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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Contact: Adam Miles, Legislative Representative
Phone:  202.408.0034 ext. 132, cell 202.276.2007
Email:    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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Groups Call for Commerce to Suspend New Media Policy
Challenging Unprecedented Prior Restraint as Attack on Scientific Freedom

(Washington, D.C.) – In a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today attacked a new media policy affecting all departmental employees, including climate change scientists and meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The policy was presented last month and was described as institutionalizing recent advances in scientific freedom at the Department of Commerce (DOC), including NOAA.

The full letter is available on GAP’s Web site.
“While there is a flawless rhetorical mandate for scientific openness, the policy then creates a system of blanket prior restraint that will create just the opposite….we are very concerned that the message of control will drown out the message of freedom,” states the letter. 
The organizations called on Secretary Gutierrez to suspend a planned 45 day training program for agency employees to obey the new restraints, until the policy’s “text reflects its laudable mandate for scientific freedom and openness,” again as stated in the letter.
The policy’s technical disclaimers include a qualifier that it cannot violate the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), but it is referenced only in passing and without explanation. The policy then details an intricate system of control that cannot coexist with the WPA. Even when expressing personal views as private citizens, Commerce employees will have to submit their message for two weeks prior review and approval.
GAP Legal Director Tom Devine commented, “The bottom line is simple. Government scientists must ask for permission to say virtually anything relevant to their professional expertise to anybody. The new rule at NOAA is: First ask, then talk.”
The groups further criticized the policy for only recognizing the right to express personal views in limited contexts, for not providing scientists the right of last review to read what is published in their names, enabling arbitrary secrecy by not requiring agency officials to explain why communications are restricted after prior review, and then creating a dysfunctional appeals system for employees to rebut secret justifications for secrecy. GAP Staff Attorney Tarek Maassarani, investigator for GAP’s recent reports on climate change censorship, put the new policy in perspective: “While the policy includes some welcome changes, it institutionalizes flaws that could lead to a re-run of the many abuses confirmed by our investigation.”
The groups noted that Commerce is reversing genuine free speech reforms last year by NOAA chief Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher. This year Congress already has had four hearings on political interference with federal climate scientists and has requested a GAO assessment of current media policies. Without waiting, however, Commerce instituted a system for unprecedented control.
Devine added, “This retreat is surprising, in light of last month’s 331-94 House passage of stronger scientific freedom rights in H.R. 985, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.”
 
Government Accountability Project
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Seattle, WA.

Climate Science Watch is a program of the Government Accountability Project.

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