White House Science Office finally clears two delayed climate science reports for release

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We have learned from various sources that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has cleared for publication two major federal climate science synthesis reports, one on the Arctic and one on ecosystem thresholds, after holding them for more than 2 months.  This action is consistent with our January 2 letter to OSTP, in which we called on the White House to end the delay and release these and 3 other pending reports before the inauguration.

Post by Rick Piltz

The final approved versions of the reports have not yet been posted on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program web site.  We hope to see them posted before January 20.  We also call on the administration to post the changes in the reports that resulted from the lengthy period of final White House review.

Our January 3 post:  Letter to White House Science Office on delays in releasing climate science reports.

The two reports cleared for release:

Past Climate Variability and Change in the Arctic and at High Latitudes, U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product (SAP) 1.2, Lead Agency:  U.S. Geological Survey

Thresholds of Change in Ecosystems, U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product (SAP) 4.2, Lead agency:  U.S. Geological Survey

Climate Science Watch letter to White House Science Office on delays in releasing climate science reports

In our January 2 letter to Sharon Hays, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, we said “unnecessary delays continue to impede the timely release of the final Synthesis and Assessment reports that constitute a core component of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program’s commitment under the Bush administration to inform Congress and the public on the scientific underpinnings of climate change.” We said “the appearance of White House influence on the scientific content of the reports during the clearance process calls into question the integrity of the final products.” We called on the White House to “take all necessary steps to ensure that all five of these reports [which were originally scheduled to be released between 2005 and 2007] are cleared and released before January 20,” and “to make public all editorial comments and/or proposed changes submitted to the authors during the final clearance process.”

SAP 1.2, Past Climate Variability and Change in the Arctic and at High Latitudes, was originally scheduled to be completed “within two years” of the publication of the July 2003 U.S. Climate Change Science Program Strategic Plan (i.e., by July 2005).  Not until August 2008 was a draft report produced for public review, which concluded on September 25, 2008.  A third draft was posted on the CCSP website on October 28, at which time it was submitted by the lead agency (U.S. Geological Survey) for final White House review and approval.  According to the published timeline for the report, it was supposed to have been published two weeks after being submitted for clearance.  However, it stalled in the clearance process for more than two months, with no explanation for the delay. 

SAP 4.2, Thresholds of Change in Ecosystems, originally was promised for completion within 2-4 years, i.e., by July 2007.  It finally was submitted to the White House for clearance on November 4, 2008.  According to the final prospectus for the report, it was to be published in the same month that it was submitted for clearance, in November.  Instead, it has been awaiting clearance for two months. 

The White House also has been sitting on three additional long-overdue synthesis reports.  To our knowledge these reports have not been cleared.  Eight years after the Bush administration came to power and 5 ½ years after the release of the CCSP Strategic Plan, they remain unpublished:

SAP 4.1, Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region, was scheduled originally to be completed by July 2005.  It finally was submitted for clearance on October 22, 2008.  According to the Minutes of the 6th Meeting of the Coastal Elevations and Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee (held on October 16, 2008), “the report was essentially complete,” it would take “two to three weeks” for clearance, and “the report would be released around late November.” It still has not been cleared and published after more than 11 weeks, with no apparent justification. 

SAP 5.2, Best Practice Approaches for Characterizing, Communicating, and Incorporating Scientific Uncertainty in Decisionmaking, originally was promised by July 2005; it finally was submitted for clearance on December 22, 2008.  According to the report prospectus, it is to be posted publicly the month after being submitted for clearance, in January 2009.

SAP 2.3, Aerosol Properties and their Impacts on Climate, originally was promised by July 2007 but submitted for clearance on December 15, 2008.

The Obama administration’s new science policy leadership should take a hard look at the record of how Bush administration officials and the senior management of the Climate Change Science Program have managed, and mismanaged, the production of the CCSP’s 21 synthesis reports on climate change topics since 2003.  It seems to me that this is a process and a management team that is in need of a shake-up.

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