Broken Government assessment of Bush administration failures includes climate change communication


The Center for Public Integrity has identified 128 “systematic failures” across the the executive branch during the past eight years, in areas ranging from the military and veterans affairs to justice and security to finance to consumers and workers to energy and the environment.  One item in the report—“Climate Change: Hide the Assessment”—concerns the broken integrity of climate change science communication and the suppression of the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts.

An article in RawStory (“Watchdog group: Depth of Bush failures surprised even us”) called the results the results of the investigation “stunning in their scope even for those who have been following the scandals of the last eight years.”

From the Center for Public Integrity news release on their report:

Broken Government: The Center for Public Integrity Releases
a Comprehensive Assessment of Executive Branch Failures

WASHINGTON – December 10 – The eight-year tenure of the Bush administration was marked by more than 125 systematic failures across the breadth of the federal government. That’s the bottom-line conclusion of the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity’s Broken Government project, an in-depth digital report that illuminates each breakdown with a separate story tracking its causes, effects, and implications.

The project is a comprehensive assessment of executive branch failures over the course of the Bush presidency; the failures occurred in areas as diverse as education, energy, the environment, justice and security, the military and veterans affairs, health care, transportation, financial management, consumer and worker safety, and more. While some of these failures are, by now, depressingly familiar, many are less known but equally troubling.

Many of the failures are rooted in recurring themes: agency appointees selected primarily for ideology and loyalty, rather than competence; agency heads who overruled staff experts and suppressed reports that did not coincide with administration philosophy; agency-industry collusion; a bedrock belief in the wisdom of deregulation; extensive private outsourcing of public functions; a general failure to exercise government’s oversight responsibilities; and severely slashed budgets at understaffed agencies that often left them unable to execute basic administrative functions.

“The Center for Public Integrity has sought to compile a damage assessment of the past eight years as part of an accounting process for the American public,” said Center Executive Director Bill Buzenberg. “The project also has important implications for a new administration and Congress as they seek to avoid these problems and improve the regulatory process.”

Here’s one item from the report (full list below):

Climate Change: Hide the Assessment

During an administration in which all three branches of government debated greenhouse gas regulation, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) was busy suppressing references to a landmark 2000 national assessment on climate change and delaying the congressionally-mandated update of that document. In 2005, Rick Piltz, a senior associate at CCSP, blew the whistle [also here] and resigned over politicization that he felt “undermine[d] the credibility and integrity of the program”—a 13-agency research effort overseen by the White House.

Piltz testified in an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee that reported White House officials heavily edited scientific documents and controlled which climate scientists could speak to the media. Philip A. Cooney, a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, spearheaded the editing for the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) — including 181 edits made to CCSP’s 2003 strategic plan. CEQ deleted nine references to the national assessment — a document that sought to identify key climatic vulnerabilities in the United States. The oversight investigation highlighted other reports by CCSP and the Environmental Protection Agency in which material on climate change was significantly edited or deleted altogether. Cooney resigned after the revelations of his edits (and then went to work for Exxon-Mobil), but the administration called it normal procedure for political appointees to edit work by government scientists. Officials said it was done to echo a 2001 National Academy of Sciences report, but the oversight committee characterized the practice as cherry-picking science.

Meanwhile, CCSP failed to meet a required November 2004 deadline to update the national assessment, electing instead to wait and issue 21 separate reports over a multi-year period. Those delays prompted criticism from the Government Accountability Office and the National Research Council. An environmental coalition sued the administration for its failure to issue an integrated report of its findings, and in 2007 a U.S. district judge ordered that assessment to be issued before June 2008. CCSP issued a report the following May, prompting whistleblower Piltz to say that “[a]fter seven years of denial, disinformation, cover-up, and delay, in its waning months, the Bush administration is finally beginning to allow the publication of reports that acknowledge this scientific reality.” The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy did not respond to a request for comment, but in a press release the office’s associate director said, “This assessment represents a comprehensive look at the effects of climate change for the United States and will be yet another tool for the nation’s decision-makers to use when planning for the future.”

As of December 8, CCSP had completed 14 of its 21 technical reports on climate change. It plans to issue the final seven by the end of 2008. The program also issued the first draft of an integrated report in July, which the administration said “will provide a single coherent analysis of the current understanding of climate change science.”

Failures: Full list

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan independent Washington, D.C.-based organization that does investigative reporting and research on significant public issues. Since 1990, the Center has released more than 400 investigative reports and 17 books.

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