“Whistle-Blowers Say Obama Fails to Save Scientists From Meddling”

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White House leadership and guidance hasn’t been strong enough to ensure that agency scientific integrity policies are developed expeditiously and protect the work of federal scientists from political interference. In addition to foot-dragging on submitting and making public the far too long-delayed policies, from what we have seen so far, “The language tends to be too general and lacking in enforcement” to keep “some politically motivated manager from engaging in abuse,” we told Bloomberg Government news.

[Update August 31: the article is now available free of charge: “Whistle-Blowers Say Obama Fails Scientists“]

Brian Wingfield at Bloomberg Government (by subscription) reported on August 30 (“Whistle-Blowers Say Obama Fails to Save Scientists From Meddling”):

President Barack Obama directed his science adviser in March 2009 to guarantee the integrity of work by government researchers. Two years later, the science office came up with a shortcut, whistle-blower groups say.

Just restate existing policies or copy boilerplate promising to protect scientists reporting political interference, the office advised in a memo.

Nineteen agencies have submitted plans to the White House. The watchdog groups said the proposals made public so far are too vague to prevent incidents such as the editing of climate-change findings by appointees during President George W. Bush’s administration and what the critics say was retaliation against career employees who objected.

“The language tends to be too general and lacking in enforcement” to keep “some politically motivated manager from engaging in abuse,” Rick Piltz, director of Climate Science Watch in Washington, said in a Bloomberg Government interview….

Obama directed his White House science adviser John Holdren in March 2009 to oversee the development of federal agency scientific integrity policies. Two-and-a-half years later, the process appears to be nowhere near completion. “The whole process is so far behind schedule, we are concerned it won’t ever conclude,” [Jeff] Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said to Bloomberg.

Our review of the few agency draft policies that have been made public so far focuses on whether rigorous protections are being put in place to protect federal scientists – climate scientists in particular – from political interference, to ensure freedom of communication between scientists and the media, and to specify and enforce a set of strong whistleblower protections.

Piltz of Climate Science Watch has said he resigned in 2005 from his post as a senior associate with the U.S. Global Change Research Program to protest Bush-era interference. He founded the science-watch organization to monitor government use of research about the Earth’s warming.

Piltz told a House committee in January 2007 that a Bush White House official edited climate-change documents to produce “an enhanced, manufactured sense of fundamental scientific uncertainty about global warming.”

Most agencies have not completed and made public either draft or final versions of their scientific integrity policies. The White House has thus far allowed agencies to not disclose their policies to the public.

Two that have done so are the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. EPA and NOAA both say they will adopt “appropriate whistle-blower protections,” but our review of their draft policies finds they fall short of including strong and detailed whistleblower protection language.

Earlier posts:

NOAA draft scientific integrity policy a work in progress

On the White House Scientific Integrity guidelines – Part 1: OMB’s Secret ‘Openness’ Policy (first of a 4-part series)

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