Notes on Conrad Lautenbacher’s troubled legacy on science and politics at NOAA (Part 2)


Any assessment of the tenure of Conrad Lautenbacher, who has resigned as NOAA Administrator effective October 31, will have to consider the problems of political interference with climate science communication and the mismanagement of the NPOESS satellite global climate monitoring project that happened on his watch.  See Details for our earlier posts on these problems.

Post by Rick Piltz

See our September 24 post:
NOAA head Lautenbacher resigns, leaving troubled legacy on science and politics (Part 1)

And for the record (see individual posts for details and links to additional documentation):

The NOAA Media Policy: Political pre-approval for public communication by scientists
Posted on Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The official NOAA Media Policy establishes a procedure that requires pre-clearance of contacts between NOAA scientists and the media. Under this policy, the NOAA Public Affairs office is designated as responsible for coordinating and approving media communications involving NOAA, including advisories, press releases, interviews, and other related media contacts. NOAA’s policy establishes a framework for politicization of decisions about public communication by federal climate scientists.

Jim Hansen: NOAA “by fiat” put out “biased information” on hurricanes
Posted on Wednesday, February 15,

2006Jim Hansen of NASA made a presentation (5.1 MB download) on February 10 at a conference on Politics and Science in New York City.  In the talk he said:  “NOAA took an official position that global warming was not the cause of hurricane intensification, and as the public was glued to their television listening to reports from the Hurricane Center, that is the main message the public received. The topic is a complex one that the scientific community is working on, but it seems that the public, by fiat, received biased information. NOAA scientists were told not to dispute the Hurricane Center conclusion in public.”

Senate committee lets Adm. Lautenbacher off the hook on NOAA media restrictions
Posted on Thursday, February 23, 2006

At a February 16 oversight committee hearing (video file; hearing begins at 17:50) on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fiscal year 2007 budget request, the Senate served up another example of the shortcomings of Congressional oversight of the administration’s handling of global warming. At a time of emerging outspokenness by federal climate scientists and increased media attention to political interference with public communication by scientists at NASA and NOAA, Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, the NOAA Administrator, was allowed to dance away from a couple of general inquiries with evasive and misleading replies, with no follow-up from the committee. The hearing was held on the same day the Wall Street Journal ran an article citing a “growing outcry from climate researchers in [NOAAs] own ranks.”

Former NOAA Lab Director: “Climate scientists within NOAA have been prevented from speaking freely”
Posted on Friday, March 10, 2006

In response to media attention to restrictions on public communication by climate scientists of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce Under Secretary Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, the NOAA Administrator, issued a message on 14 February 2006 on scientific openness.  The message is posted here, preceded by the response of Jerry Mahlman, former director for 16 years of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey.

Mahlman says: “Contrary to Dr. Lautenbacher’s assertions, I state emphatically that climate scientists within NOAA have indeed recently been systematically prevented from speaking freely. A number of NOAA scientists have directly and openly disagreed with Lautenbacher’s statements that deny his direct connection with censorship of climate science.”

Washington Post reports “Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From White House”
Posted on Sunday, April 09, 2006

On April 6 the Washington Post ran a 1400-word article on political interference with federal climate scientists, focusing primarily on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The article draws on interviews with several scientists who report instances in which they contend that administration political pressure has impeded the flow of scientific communication about climate change and its implications.  Two of the cases discussed in the article involve James R. Mahoney, until very recently the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.

House Science Committee Chair Calls for Reform of NOAA Public Affairs Policy
Posted on Wednesday, April 12, 2006

House Science Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) sent a letter on April 7 to Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in response to an April 6 story in The Washington Post on concerns expressed by NOAA scientists.  In the letter Mr. Boehlert says:  “The issue of climate change is too important to countenance any scientists feeling intimidated or constrained about discussing the matter…” and calls on Lautenbacher to “swiftly” take five specific steps to remedy the problem.

NPOESS weather and climate satellite crisis: Should heads roll at NOAA?
Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2006

An investigative report by the Commerce Department Inspector General is sharply critical of high-level federal management for failing to deal effectively with long delays and major cost overruns in the development and deployment of an essential satellite remote-sensing system under development by NOAA, the Defense Department, and NASA.  The National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) is intended as an operational system to provide state-of-the art data for weather forecasting and climate system monitoring.  Some members of Congress are calling for the ouster of NOAA Administrator Lautenbacher in response to the IG’s report. 

NOAA’s misleading internal Congressional briefing points on hurricanes and global warming
Posted on Wednesday, May 31, 2006

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials came in for legitimate criticism last year for putting out misleading, incomplete, and one-sided information about the state of scientific research on the connection between global warming and increased hurricane intensity.  An internal NOAA document obtained by Climate Science Watch lays out a set of official talking points on “Hurricanes and Climate Change” for use in Congressional testimony and legislative briefings, indicating that the agency’s spinning of this issue continues in 2006.

NOAA, global warming, and hurricanes: CSW director interview
Posted on Sunday, June 04, 2006

Text from a May 30 live interview with Climate Science Watch director Rick Piltz on the “Earthbeat” public affairs show on WPFW-FM radio in Washington, DC, as part of a program on hurricanes and global warming.  Also interviewed was Dr. Judith Curry of Georgia Tech University, who met the following day with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to discuss the potential implications for Florida of research showing a global increase in hurricane intensity (AP: “Scientists say warming threatening Florida”).

NOAA censors speech by science experts on endangered salmon
Posted on Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Washington Post reported May 31 that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has directed that questions about endangered salmon—which the agency is responsible for protecting—are to be answered only by headquarters, and then only by three officials, all political appointees.  Scientists and other agency officials who actually work on the salmon studies aren’t supposed to answer reporters’ questions.  In a June 3 editorial, “A Fishy Policy: The Bush administration’s big chill on speech isn’t limited to global warming,” the Post calls NOAA’s justification for the policy “Orwellian” and says: “You’d think the Bush administration would have learned its lesson with James Hansen and global warming. Apparently not.”

Lieberman calls on White House and NOAA to address climate science censorship allegations
Posted on Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Raising the possibility of a concerted effort by the Administration to restrict openness on climate change research, Sen. Joe Lieberman today called on Dr. John Marburger III, White House Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to investigate and address allegations that federal agencies have sought to cover-up or edit scientific information related to climate change.  Lieberman also wrote to Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, the Administrator of NOAA, calling on him to take action on recent reports that NOAA officials have been discouraging agency scientists from sharing their findings on climate change. 

Hurricanes and global warming: A credibility challenge for the Climate Change Science Program
Posted on Wednesday, July 05, 2006

New research linking global warming and recent enhanced North Atlantic hurricane activity was funded by the National Science Foundation, a major participating agency in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Last year NOAA put out misleading, one-sided information about the state of knowledge on the connection between global warming and increased hurricane intensity. That cannot be allowed to happen again this year. Climate Science Watch challenges the CCSP leadership to insist on credible government communications on this subject.

Why the administration buried a NOAA scientists’ statement on hurricanes and climate
Posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Officials at the Department of Commerce have been blocking the release of a new statement by federal climate scientists at NOAA on Atlantic hurricanes and climate. On September 27 a leaked copy of the statement was posted on the web (see “Details” for the text). We believe they decided to bury the statement because, albeit in a low-profile way, it acknowledges that global warming can increase hurricane intensity, and also the possibility that, because of global warming, the current active hurricane period could persist. That is a linkage the administration has taken pains to keep the public from making, for reasons having to do with the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and the administration’s desire to fend off public pressure for a stronger global warming mitigation policy.

House Science Committee ranking member seeks answers on Commerce Dept. cover-up of hurricane report
Posted on Tuesday, October 10, 2006

House Science Committee ranking member Bart Gordon (D-TN) has initiated an inquiry relating to a “FAQ” fact sheet on “Atlantic Hurricanes and Climate” that was developed by NOAA scientists.  The science journal Nature reported on September 26 that the document “has been blocked by officials at the US Department of Commerce.” NOAA administrator Lautenbacher told Nature that it was simply an internal exercise designed to get researchers to respect each other’s points of view.  However, Rep. Gordon released an internal NOAA e-mail that directly contradicts that statement and has sent investigative correspondence to Lautenbacher that asks for a response this week.

GAP letter to the NOAA Administrator on criteria for media policy reform
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Government Accountability Project has sent a letter to Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator, detailing GAP’s recommendations on NOAA’s media policy reform.  GAP is urging that NOAA enact a policy that eases and clarifies the flow of information to the press from NOAA scientists; makes federal scientists aware of their First Amendment right to speak to the media as citizens about any subject; gets rid of mandatory pre-approval and various other politicizing impediments to public communication by scientists that NOAA has engaged in; ensures that the ultimate decision about the content of and parties to any particular media communication lies with the reporter and the scientist whom the reporter requests; and avoids several shortcomings of the reformed NASA media policy, including its failure to comply with the requirements of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

GAP and UCS call on Commerce Dept. to suspend new restrictive media policy
Posted on Monday, April 23, 2007

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.

Internal report to White House on implications of NPOESS climate observations crisis
Posted on Monday, June 04, 2007

On June 4 the Associated Press reported on the looming crisis in the U.S. satellite-based global climate observing system. An internal “pre-decisional” report to the White House by NASA and NOAA, which Climate Science Watch provided to AP, explains how the decision by the Pentagon and NOAA to drop key climate-monitoring sensors from the National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)—the core of the next generation of Earth-orbiting climate-monitoring instruments—places in grave jeopardy scientists’ future ability to monitor key variables necessary for understanding climate change and its consequences. We are making the report available here NPOESS-OSTPdec-06.pdf, to encourage wider attention to this problem and to increase pressure on the President and Congress to deal with it.

Key points in NASA-NOAA report to White House science office on NPOESS de-scoping
Posted on Monday, June 04, 2007

The Associated Press reported on June 4: “A confidential report to the White House, obtained by The Associated Press, warns that U.S. scientists will soon lose much of their ability to monitor warming from space using a costly and problem-plagued satellite initiative begun more than a decade ago….’We’re going to start being blinded in our ability to observe the planet,’ said [Rick] Piltz, whose group provided the AP with the previously undisclosed report.” We have prepared a 7-page briefing paper NPOESS-Summary.pdf that summarizes key points that lead to this conclusion, drawn from the text of the 76-page internal report NPOESS-OSTPdec-06.pdf to the White House Office of Science Technology Policy by a team of senior science managers at NASA and NOAA.

House appropriations for NASA and NOAA would begin to reverse damage to climate observing system
Posted on Saturday, July 28, 2007

On July 26 the House of Representatives approved a Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations bill with funding for NASA and NOAA. The bill, if enacted, would take a few steps toward rectifying the damage that has been done during the current administration to the future of global climate change space-based observations and to Earth science research and analysis at NASA. The Appropriations Committee report on the bill challenges administration priorities and underscores the need for a stronger national climate program.

House Oversight Committee report contradicts NOAA Administrator Lautenbacher’s testimony
Posted on Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On 16 February 2006, the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., was asked in a Senate Hearing whether there was White House censorship of communication by NOAA scientists. Lautenbacher responded that he was “not aware that there is any truth to that at all,” that he had “never seen anybody to be able to muzzle a scientist,” that scientists say “whatever they want to say,” and that “we don’t interfere with the ability of our scientists to discuss their peer reviewed science.” His statement is contradicted by a report issued on Monday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

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