Marburger’s legacy: John Holdren must restore credibility to the White House science office

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Incoming presidential science advisor John Holdren will be called upon to restore credibility to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which, in our view, his Bush administration predecessor John Marburger did much to discredit.  We note several instances in which Dr. Marburger carried water for Bush and Cheney on climate change. 

Post by Anne Polansky

President Bush let ten months go by before he had John Marburger in place as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  In contrast, President Obama appointed Harvard University physicist John Holdren even before taking the oath of office, bumped up the post to cabinet-level status and elevated it to ‘Assistant to the President for Science.’  Dr. Holdren will be called upon to restore credibility to presidential science advice and a damaged OSTP. 

[Jan 30, 3 pm addendum:  We just discovered this wonderful cartoon by Jack Ohman at The Oregonian to accompany this post.]

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Marburger emphasized the scientific uncertainties in climate change, failing to mention the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report released just months before.  He said:

Creating new scientific knowledge and technology to help us avoid environmental damage and its consequences is one of the great challenges facing our research enterprise. Recent advances in environmental science and technology hold enormous promise for the creation of a sustainable future in which our environmental health, our economic prosperity, and our quality of life are mutually reinforcing. At the same time, our growing knowledge has revealed vast gaps in our understanding of many environmental issues, particularly the human influence on the global climate.

Once Marburger was in office:

He was complicit in the White House effort to suppress the good work done in the US National Assessment of climate change impacts, by submitting a strategic plan to Congress for climate research that excluded discussion of the USNA.

In January 30, 2007 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, Climate Science Watch director Rick Piltz noted that in the July 2003 Strategic Plan for the Climate Change Science Program, submitted to Congress and signed by OSTP Director Marburger along with two cabinet officials, there was no discussion of the 2000 US National Assessment of climate change impacts.  He testified, “In effect, mention of the National Assessment had almost completely vanished from the CCSP Strategic Plan.” 

He failed to respond to a letter from Rep. Mark Udall, then the ranking minority member of a subcommittee on the Committee on Science and Technology, making inquiries and requesting clarification regarding the budgets for various federal programs under the Climate Change Science Program. 

In reviewing the programs and budgets presented in Our Changing Planet:  The US Climate Change Science Program for Fiscal Years 2004-2005, Rep. Mark Udall submitted a set of 19 questions directed at OSTP, and sets of questions for each of various agencies participating in the CCSP:  Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, Department of Interior, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protecting Agency, US Agency for International Development, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  It is our understanding that the questions were distributed to the agencies where they were answered and returned to OSTP, but that they were never submitted to Rep. Udall. 

  He refused to grant CBS an interview for a “60 Minutes” program on White House censorship of climate science.

In a Climate Science Watch post—CBS News “60 Minutes” airs global warming story on “Re-Writing the Science” —we excerpted key quotes from a set of interviews aired March 19, 2006 on “60 Minutes,” from the second part of a two-part global warming story.  The segment, entitled “Re-Writing the Science,” focused on political impediments to public communication of climate science findings, drawing on interviews with Jim Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences; and CSW director Rick Piltz.

In the program, CBS correspondent Scott Pelley stated:  “For months, 60 Minutes had been trying to talk with the president’s science advisor. 60 Minutes was finally told he would never be available.”

“So this is the sorry state of affairs we have reached with Dr. John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy,” we said.  “The administration will not talk with CBS News.”

He ignored a written request in 2006 from Sen. Joe Lieberman, Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs at the time, asking him to investigate allegations that four federal agencies sought to cover-up or edit scientific information related to climate change. .

In June 2006 we reported that Senator Joe Lieberman sent a letter to Dr. Marburger expressing concerns about White House censorship of climate science communications and asking him to investigate.  The letter said, “Allegations that four federal agencies [EPA, NOAA, NASA, and the US Forest Service] have sought to withhold climate change research are deeply disturbing and suggest an Administration-wide attempt to restrict scientific openness on climate change. These allegations need to be addressed urgently.  Climate change is a grave problem facing our country, and it is imperative that our top scientists and researchers are sharing information, not hiding it.”  Three months later, Dr. Marburger had still not responded.  He did, however, talk to a reporter that triggered another press release from Lieberman’s office dated September 20, 2006 stating:  “In response to my request that OSTP Director Dr. John Marburger investigate allegations of climate science censorship at four government agencies, Dr. Marburger told the press that he had ‘found no basis to support Senator Lieberman’s concerns.’  These emails reveal that censorship has been occurring in Dr. Marburger’s own office. His credibility is hanging by a thread.”  We could find no evidence that Dr. Marburger ever responded directly to Sen. Lieberman.

 

He misled Congress on decisions jeopardizing a critical Earth-observing satellite system:

On July 7, 2007, we reported:

In his testimony at a June 7 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on the development of the NPOESS satellite system, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy director John Marburger played down the extent to which the future of essential climate change observations from space has been jeopardized by the Pentagon’s elimination or downgrading of eight climate sensors originally planned for NPOESS. In addition to an internal NOAA-NASA report to the White House released in June by Climate Science Watch, a presentation to a National Research Council panel on NPOESS by the director of the NOAA Climate Program Office is another source that paints a more truthful picture. 

He was “ever the company man blowing smoke on the President’s behalf” (we editorialized):

In August 2007 we quoted Marburger defending President Bush, even though evidence had been piling up that the administration had been systematically interfering with the open communication of scientific information from federal scientists, e.g., as reported in an article in USA TODAY quoting Science magazine editor in chief Donald Kennedy:  “The science community now recognizes that this administration completely puts its political cart before the scientific horse…..We’ve seen it with one issue after another.”

Marburger said, “I have not seen any orchestration or central direction about what you can’t talk about.”  The president expects scientists to share their expertise and to “be a little bit proactive in getting the truth out” if they encounter resistance.

He failed to defend his own scientific integrity and credibility, even when it was called into question during an oversight hearing chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer.

Perhaps Marburger’s lowest point in his career as science adviser was his refusal to identify persons in the administration who had redacted multiple pages of then CDC director Julie Gerberding linking climate change to a variety of threats ot public health.  Sitting before Chairman Barbara Boxer in an oversight hearing to investigate the incident, he refused to name names, even after Press Secretary Dana Perino had insinuated that OSTP had edited the document and therefore may have deleted the essential text.  Boxer looked right at Marburger and told him the White House had “left him holding the bag” and that he should go home and talk with his family about the best course of action.  He didn’t flinch.  We wrote:

John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in response to later Congressional questioning that OSTP had only recommended some text edits to the draft Gerberding testimony on health effects of climate change, not the deletion of the entire contents. From my [CSW director Piltz’s] experience and sources, I believe this is true. However, Marburger claimed that he didn’t know who ordered the deletion of the testimony. Either that claim is false, or it reflects a failure of due diligence on Marburger’s part to learn what is going on inside the administration vis-v-vis testimony on climate change. Which is worse?

It was later confirmed that the White House Council on Environmental Quality, acting on behalf of Vice President Cheney’s office, had directed the censorship of Gerberding’s testimony.  Marburger either knew this, or should have.  His silence spoke volumes.

We could cite numerous additional examples, including the times, from early in his tenure, when Marburger framed his discussion of the scientific evidence about anthropogenic global warming in such as way as to exaggerate uncertainties, while failing to firmly associate himself with the conclusions of the IPCC and the climate science mainstream—as though he were always looking over his shoulder at his White House political overseers, rather than standing up to them on behalf of the science community.  He later improved his statements on climate science somewhat, but during the early years of the Bush administration, when the die was cast and the White House essentially became an arm of the global warming disinformation campaign, Marburger was politically complicit.  From what we witnessed on the climate change front, Dr. Marburger’s departure brings to an end a sorry chapter in the history of US science policy.

 

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