Censored Testimony from Centers for Disease Control: Update

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There have been several important developments since the morning of Wednesday, 24 October 2007, when we posted the uncensored draft Congressional testimony from the Center for Disease Control’s Director Julie Gerberding on the relationship between climate change and human health. The Congress has stepped up the presssure; and the White House has responded. The Climate Science Watch research team documents events from Tuesday October 23rd through Friday October 26th 2007.


Tuesday 23 October 2007

Senate, Committee on Environment and Public Works holds a hearing on Examining the Human Health Impacts of Global Warming. The first witness before the committee was Julie Louise Gerberding,
Director,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat, California) chaired the hearing (see her opening statement); Senator James Inhofe (Republican, Oklahoma) was the top Republican on the committee (see his opening statement).

Associated Press reports in White House Edits CDC Climate Testimony that the White House “severely edited congressional testimony given by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the impact of climate change on health, removing specific scientific references to potential health risks, according to two sources familiar with the documents….It was eviscerated,” said a CDC official familiar with both the testimony approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the original uncensored draft. According to AP, OMB spokesman Sean Kevelighan said "that OMB reviews take into consideration ‘whether they … line up well with the national priorities of the administration.’"

Senate Environment and Public Works committee issues Boxer Statement on White House Editing of CDC Global Warming Testimony saying that "[t]he Administration should immediately release Dr. Gerberding’s full, uncut statement, because the public has a right to know all the facts about the serious threats posed by global warming.”  

Wednesday 24 October 2007

Climate Science Watch posts Dr. Gerberding’s draft uncensored written testimony.

Senate Environment and Public Works committee issues Boxer Asks White House for “Full Accounting” of Edits to CDC Global Warming Testimony. The press release includes a letter to President Bush from Senator Boxer requesting "no later than Monday, October 29, 2007, a copy of all drafts of the CDC Director’s testimony sent to the Office of Management and Budget or other offices within the Executive Office of the President or other agencies. Please also provide any records reflecting comments on the draft testimony of any of those entities or officials within or affiliated with the Executive Office of the President or any of the White House Offices (including the Office of the Vice President), or of any other agency, and the names and titles of the persons involved in the review."

Kristin Scuderi, spokesperson for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) sends an email explaining OSTP’s involvement. According the Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post (Senator Boxer Seeks Answers on Redacted Testimony, 25 October 2007), Scuderi explained "that the president’s science adviser and his aides were trying to ‘strengthen the testimony, not to remove the weak sections entirely.’ After Marburger questioned ‘inconsistencies in the use of language between the [IPCC] report and the testimony . . . the OMB editor decided to transmit a version that simply struck the first eight pages’ because there was not time to reconcile the concerns raised by Marburger’s office and Gerberding’s original statement."

White House press briefing by Dana Perino. According to Perino:

  • Gerberding is "giving a speech today at the Atlanta Press Club and she plans to address this issue….And one of the things that she told us this morning, late morning, is that she, at the Atlanta Press Club, is going to reiterate that she in no way felt inhibited or hindered by what she was going to say.
  • "In this case, the testimony I believe came a little bit less than 24 hours before it was going to be given."
  • "The CDC, they are the experts when it comes to disease vectors. There are experts that deal specifically with climate science."
  • "…in the draft there was broad characterizations about climate change science that didn’t align with the IPCC.
    And we have experts and scientists across this administration that can take a look at that testimony and say, this is an error, or this doesn’t make sense. And so the decision on behalf of CDC was to focus that testimony on public health benefits — there are public health benefits to climate change, as well, but both benefits and concerns that somebody like a Dr. Gerberding, who is the expert in the field, could address."
  • "…when you take — when you try to summarize what is a very complicated issue and you have many different experts who have a lot of opinions, and you get testimony less than 24 hours before it’s going to be given, you — scientists across the administration were taking a look at it, and there were a decision that she would focus where she is an expert, which is on CDC. "
  • "… CDC is on record saying that climate change is a public health concern, and we agree. "
  • " I think that she was able to give her full opinion, and she will say so, as well. I talked to her — we talked to her today; Tony Fratto did. And she feels that this is being blown out of proportion; that she was able to provide Congress with her thinking and her expertise on this issue.
  • "Clearly we think climate change is a problem. We know that the Earth is warming. We believe that humans are largely responsible. And the President has initiated a process so that we can get to a framework to have discussions about how to end global warming after 2012. I shouldn’t say `end global warming’ — we know it’s going to happen — how we can help curtail it and stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. "
  • "… remember, we only suggest the edits. CDC made the decision as to what testimony they were going to provide."
  • "This is a CDC document, it’s not a White House document."
  • When asked "who initiated the communication between Dr. Gerberding and the White House," Perino responded: "We called to find out — her spokesperson is quoted in several of the stories that ran this morning, saying that she was very comfortable with her testimony and did not feel inhibited. We wanted to call and make sure that he was quoted accurately. So that’s why we reached out to him."
  • ".. we are working with experts like Julie Gerberding to figure out what are going to be the health benefits and the health concerns of climate change, of which there are many. "
  • "…it was edited to make sure that it comported and aligned with the science that was provided by our own National Academy of Sciences…And if we are guided by the IPCC document and our own National Academy of Sciences, I think that’s pretty good company. "
  • When asked to follow up on what she had called the health benefits of climate change, Perino said: "In some cases, there are — look, this is an issue where I’m sure lots of people would love to ridicule me when I say this, but it is true that many people die from cold-related deaths every winter. And there are studies that say that climate change in certain areas of the world would help those individuals. There are also concerns that it would increase tropical diseases and that’s — again, I’m not an expert in that, I’m going to let Julie Gerberding testify in regards to that, but there are many studies about this that you can look into. "

Gerberding addresses the Atlanta Press Club. Podcast is available from Georgia Podcast Network. She says:

Yesterday I was absolutely happy with my testimony in Congress, because I think it was really important to put on the plate of the Senate, particularly the Environment and Public Works Committee, how important CDC views the issues of health consequences of climate change, and I’ve read the previous hearings and the reports that have already appeared in front of this committee, and they’ve touched on all kinds of dimensions of climate change except health.
 
So we finally had a chance to go and say what we thought was important, and I feel very confident that I had a completely honest conversation, I was candid, I told the Senate what I thought, I listened to both sides, I presented to the best of our ability right now what we know about the science, what are concerned about going into the future, and some of the things that CDC is going to need to concentrate on to try to do our part to contribute to the solution.

And I expected the press to write a lot of stories about the effects of climate change on human health and what CDC is doing about it. But instead I had to read that somebody edited my testimony.
I mean, this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!
People probably in business and many in the press probably don’t really understand how written testimony occurs.

And there is something called the OMB, it’s been around since, I don’t know if it was there when Abraham Lincoln was President, but if it was present, I’m sure that they would do they same thing they do now, which to try to coordinate testimony from the Administration, and try to make sure that enthusiastic program directors are not trying to advocate for more money coming to their agency.  So they do look it over.   But that’s only the tip of the iceberg of the clearance process.  We clear things inside of CDC, in this case there are several centers that have scientific knowledge about climate change, they need to correct this for accuracy, then we go to the Department, there’s the National Institutes of Health and sometimes other departmental agencies, they all read it, they edit it, then it goes to OMB, they edit it for coordination and budget, then it goes out into EPA and NOAA and a bunch of other federal agencies.

And we are not just talking about just one person in each of these agencies, we are talking about gaggles of people.
And what we get back is a big stack of comments and a bunch of recommendations for how to revise the testimony.

Now, the first time I testified in Congress five years ago, I paid attention to those.  I struggled with every word, every edit,  I put my time and energy into this written testimony.
After the second time I said, please fix this.
The third time I said, you know what?  Less is best. Let’s try to use the most concise written testimony that we can, because what I have learned is that nobody reads it.

And in fact, what happens is, it’s what you say, it’s your oral testimony and how you answer and ask questions in Congress.

And so, for the last five years, if anyone’s ever seen, or if you’re an insomniac and watched C-Span, you will notice that I don’t read my testimony, I prepare every word of it myself, in five years no one has ever put a word in or taken a word out in what I said in that regard because I’m a CDC scientist, and I stand by it. 
Every leader has a line in the sand that they have to stand by, and that’s my line. 
I don’t let people put words in my mouth, and I stand for science.
So, I gave my testimony yesterday, I spoke truth to Congress, and I have to read about all this other stuff, from today.

Thursday 25 October 2007

Senator Boxer holds Press Conference on White House Edits to CDC Testimony. In her briefing, Senator Boxer notes that White House spokesperson Dana Perino "claimed that the reason for the edits was that the CDC testimony was inconsistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the same topic." Boxer responds that the White House officials are seeking "to cloak their edits to her [Gerberding’s] testimony in the mantle of science." Boxer concludes: "This is yet another example of this Administration interfering with the public’s right to know all the scientific facts about issues that affect the environment, their health and the health of their families and communities. The Administration has time and again changed scientific reports when the science did not align with the Administration’s policy positions. This pattern has to stop now, and that is the message we are sending to White House today." The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Web page on the briefing includes links to:

Letter [PDF] sent to OSTP Director Marburger from Bart Gordon, Chair of the House Committee on Science and Technology, and from Brad Miller, Chairman of the committee’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. They request from Marburger all records relating to Gerberding’s testimony. "This should include all drafts of Dr. Gerberding’s proposed testimony and records of changes that were made." They imposed a deadline of 5 pm on Monday 29 October 2007. In a press release (Gordon, Miller Criticize Censoring of Federal Climate Science) issued by the Science and Technology committee, Gordon says:

"Actions such as this make it clear that Congress needs to pass and enforce a Scientific Integrity Act to protect the rights of government scientists and researchers. If the experts aren’t free to talk about their work without threat of editing or interference, then the public is one who suffers…In the past, we have received promises from Dr. Marburger and the Administration that they will protect the rights of scientists and science – particularly in the area of climate change – but recent actions show we may not be able to rely on those promises. Rep. Henry Waxman and I introduced a Scientific Integrity Act in the last Congress, and I intend to introduce it again.”

FoxNews.Com reports on comments made by White House spokesman, Tony Fratto in White House Defends Editing of Climate Testimony. According to FoxNews:

  • The White House said "other agencies were uncomfortable that she was getting into territory beyond what she was asked to convey to Congress. "
  • "Those vetting the document within other agencies, including the Office of
    Management and Budget, weren’t comfortable with some of the assertions made."
  • "Gerberding’s language on the subject did not pass review, said Fratto."
  • Fratto said "Gerberding’s paper had been submitted for review ‘within 24 hours’ of her scheduled appearance. The OMB chopped all but four-and-a-half pages rather than try to rework all the language…"

Friday 26 October 2007

John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, issues a statement: “I am taking the unusual step of commenting on OSTP’s participation in the review testimony given by another Executive branch agency in order to respond to reports press statements that have alleged or insinuated that OSTP acted inappropriately." Marburger says that OSTP’s comments on the draft testimony "did not seek to redact sections of the report, but instead made a
number of substantive and constructive comments and suggestions to ensure the testimony accurately represented the state of climate science and asked a number of questions intended to solicit clarity in the statements being made." Marburger did not explain why White House officials nevertheless decided to redact most of the testimony, while claiming that they did so in response to OSTP’s comments.

Senator Boxer issues a response to Marburger’s statement. Noting that "[n]umerous pages were completely cut by the White House," Senator Boxer adds: “Dr. Marburger’s statement is a lame defense of the White House action to censor information the American people deserve to know about the dangers of global warming.”


See these other ClimateScienceWatch.org postings:

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